Microaggressions in the Workplace: What You Can Do About It
We can't control the filters that others choose when they look at us. ~Rachel Wolchin
What are Microaggressions?
Microaggressions are statements, acts, or racist behavior against a target group. They are particular remarks, questions, or actions towards marginalized individuals and concern a group discriminated against or subject to stereotypes. It is more than an insult, insensibility, or widespread jerky behavior.
Microaggressions stem from unawareness and aren’t very micro. Social conditioning instructs us to behave in a certain way. It shapes our thought processes, teaches us how to act in a given situation. Sadly, people are conditioned to think or believe in a monotonous way. Immediately we consider what the majority approve or believe is right, without keeping an open mind. And that is how we keep cultivating our unconscious biases and prejudices.
If you are surprised when your female colleague can drive better than you or is more tech-savvy than you, you might have these biases too. Having unconventional beliefs is acceptable unless it translates into unethical behavior. Unless you belittle others, mock or pass judgments without not know their culture and experiences.
Examples of Microaggressions in the Workplace
Microaggression is prominent in any workplace. Every day people show some level of microaggressions in the workplace that they are not aware of. For example, someone asking an obese person if they are thinking of taking gym classes. Not valuing opinions of people from marginal groups or underestimating a female worker just because of her gender. Or someone is questioning your age and asking where you are from to assume your background or culture. Or be seniors employees undervaluing the job roles of new hires or juniors.
Impact of Microaggression
Microaggression can lead to a hostile work environment. It can adversely affect the psychological well-being of the employees. It impacts people of color, people with different sexualities, backgrounds, and those not perceived as the conventional crowd. Microaggression can create a toxic work environment, making it difficult for the victims to focus and concentrate on regular duties. An organization thrives where there is equality, and members communicate, being empathetic towards each other. When people discourage others by passing judgments or comments, it can affect their sanity and leave a long-lasting impression. People are often not aware of microaggression and perceive it as silly jokes, which makes the whole situation more difficult.
Microaggression is one of the major factors that impact employee retention. Equality is one criterion that every employee wants. Diversity hiring can do no good to employer branding or overall productivity of the company if its employees have to deal with microaggressions. For that, the existing employees must be given diversity training and code of conduct guidelines to be more aware and build a culture of inclusivity.
We see organizations that have instituted plans for diversity hiring actually failing to retain and advance those very job seekers... might enter cultures that have significant bias or microaggressions. And those are all really good reasons to leave. ~Arthur Woods, co-founder of diversity recruitment company, Mathison
Also, check this podcast on 'Diversity and Inclusion in the Remote Workplace.'
What You Can Do About It
If you are one of those who faced microaggression in the workplace, here are some quick tips that can help you deal with it more positively.
If you encounter microaggression, the first thing you should do is remain calm. It is easy to get emotional when you are on the receiver’s end, and you find the behavior of your colleagues, customers, or boss unpleasant. Being emotional in these situations would do no good to you. Infact you might be tagged as an overtly emotional person who can’t take a joke. Also, emotions would drive you to react in a way that you might not be proud of later. Instead, keep calm and try to have a mature conversation with the person that has offended you. Take your time and find the right moment to have that conversation. Tell the person why you think their behavior towards you is unacceptable.
Don’t Judge, Be Open-minded
Here’s a thing; people often do not know better. As we have discussed in the beginning, we are shaped by our own experiences and are conditioned to act and behave in a certain way. In our culture, there has been social conduct that has been accepted by people, and this is what encouraged them. It may so happen that the person you are upset with might not have any idea about microaggressions. They might not be aware that they have subconscious biases. Their intention might not be to hurt you. Therefore, before concluding, try to educate them and make them aware of their biases.
The most important thing here is that you respond to unacceptable behaviors. But you must not do it in a way that can completely break the equation with the person. The person could be your ally; therefore, be kind while dealing with the situation. You might take two approaches to it. Firstly, it can be factual to directly tell them why their comments/jokes made you uncomfortable, and they should not repeat it. On the other hand, you could use humor or be more light-hearted at your approach to not end up hurting them.
Don’t let social misconduct or microaggression in the workplace kill your sanity. Microaggression is everywhere, and you cannot run away from it. Addressing it with your full power and building a community that supports equality in the workplace is the best thing you can do for yourself and others.