Prejudice vs Discrimination vs Stereotype

What are the differences between Prejudice, Discrimination, and Stereotype?

Prejudice Definition and Meaning

Prejudice is an unjustified or incorrect attitude (usually negative) towards an individual based solely on the individual’s membership of a social group. The Cambridge dictionary Defines Prejudice as an unfair and unreasonable opinion or feeling, especially when formed without enough thought or knowledge. Prejudice is a baseless and often negative preconception or attitude toward members of a group.

When people hold prejudicial attitudes toward others, they tend to view everyone who fits into a certain group as being “all the same.” They paint every individual who holds particular characteristics or beliefs with a very broad brush and fails to really look at each person as a unique individual. Prejudice can have a strong influence on how people behave and interact with others, particularly with those who are different from them, even unconsciously or without the person realizing they are under the influence of their internalized prejudices.

Discrimination Definition and Meaning

Discrimination means treating a person unfairly because of who they are or because they possess certain characteristics. Discrimination is an action or a decision that treats a person or a group badly for reasons such as their race, age or disability. Many people wrongly think that discrimination does not exist if the impact was not intended, or if there were other factors that could explain a particular situation.

In fact, discrimination often takes place without any intent to do harm. And in most cases, there are overlaps between discrimination and other legitimate factors. If you have been treated differently from other people only because of who you are or because you possess certain characteristics, you may have been discriminated against.

What are Protected Attributes (list)?

Protected Attributes meaning the qualities, traits, or characteristics that are protected by law, and must not be discriminated against. The lists of protected attributes of different countries (Canada, America, Australia, UK) are very similar, and usually include, but not limited to:

  • disability
  • sex
  • race
  • sexuality
  • age
  • gender identity
  • relationship status
  • status as a parent or carer
  • pregnancy
  • breastfeeding
  • religious or political conviction
  • guide dog or other assistance animal
  • industrial activity
  • profession, trade, occupation or calling
  • spent criminal conviction
  • association with a person who has an attribute listed above.

What are the 4 types of Discrimination?

There are 4 main types of discrimination:

Direct discrimination

Direct Discrimination happens when someone is directly mistreated unfavourably because of one or more of the protected attributes.

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination meaning a requirement (or a system) that appears to be neutral and the same for everyone in fact has the effect of disadvantaging someone because they have a protected attribute. An example of Indirect discrimination is if someone is disabled, but expected to show up to an office for an interview, but the building doesn’t have an escalator that allows for a wheelchair. Therefore, the person who has disability won’t be able to show up for an interview.

Subtle Discrimination

Subtle Discrimination is not obvious, or intention. However a subtle discrimination can happen in many ways, they are difficult to spot. It may be a joke, a subtle comment, or other behavior which is difficult to prove.

An simple example is joking about a female co-worker who is too weak to perform certain tasks.

Adverse Effect Discrimination

Adverse effect discrimination is a scenario that on the surface, the related policy seems to treat everyone equally but actually has an adverse impact on a protected group. An example of adverse effect discrimination is that a shift-related policy that require all employee to rotate shifts, however it is discriminating to an employee who needs to find childcare at midnight.


Harassment meaning a situation when a person’s behaviour undermines the dignity and psychological or physical well-being of another person or persons. An example of harassment can be sexual harassment, or bullying because of protected attribute differences.


Victimization is the event or incident leading to a victim state. Victimisation is where someone is treated relatively less favourably because someone intend to complain or has already complained about discrimination.

Stereotype Definition and Meaning

Stereotype is defined as to attach an idea or image to a person who belong to a particular group. A stereotype is “…a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.” (Cardwell, 1996). Stereotyping is something we do daily, even if we don’t realize it.

Stereotypes are not only harmful in their own right; they do damage by fostering prejudice and discrimination. By classifying groups of people, we can better understand the world around us, although prejudice may be a result. In this lesson, we’ll watch Amy categorize strangers she sees on a bus and determine the reasons why humans tend to stereotype.

What are the 6 types of discrimination?

There are 4 main types of discrimination

  1. Direct discrimination
  2. Indirect discrimination
  3. Subtle Discrimination
  4. Adverse Effect Discrimination
  5. Harassment
  6. Victimization

Learn more about Prejudice vs Discrimination vs Stereotype at Diversity Social

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About the author

Susanne Ricee

Susanne Ricee is the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist and Researcher at Diversity for Social Impact. Sue brings over 15 years of HR and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion consultation experience.
Sue's previous experience includes Microsoft, Target, and Kraft. Sue is also the manager of Diversity Leadership Directory