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Addressing microaggressions at work

Microaggressions are an unfortunate reality that all minority groups are forced to deal with on a day-to-day basis. And the negative impact of microaggressions, especially in the workplace, can be extremely long-lasting and damaging for your employees. 

Keep reading to find out how you can better understand, address, and eliminate workplace microaggression.

 

What are microaggressions? 

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines “microaggression” as “An act or a remark that discriminates against one or more members of a minority group, either deliberately or by mistake.”  

As the word suggests, microaggressions are “micro” acts, meaning that they’re small. This is why they were seen as harmless for a long while. However, we should recognize that they can cause a lot of harm nonetheless, leading to worsened mental health and feelings of unsafety in the workplace. As a result, normalizing microaggressions only makes the problem get bigger over time.

 

Where microaggressions really come from 

When confronted about their behavior by minorities, perpetrators of microaggressions often write it off as a joke, a misunderstanding, or a small comment that was blown out of proportion. But what are they really, and do they come from a bad place? 

Stereotyping is recognized as one of the leading causes of microaggression. These stereotypes, by definition, help spread assumptions and beliefs that put minorities into boxes. While seemingly harmless, they also perpetuate the idea that all members of that group are/should be that way. By neatly categorizing these groups, it dehumanizes people of said groups and reduces them to their preconceived stereotypes. 

Another cause can be plain ignorance. Some people don’t (or at least, claim not to) know about the struggles of minority groups and can make insensitive comments without giving it a second thought. The solution to this is to educate everyone towards being more inclusive and sensitive towards minority groups. 

 

Types of microaggressions 

There are many different types of microaggressions in everyday life that we come across. We can categorize them into these three groups:  

  • Verbal microaggressions: The use of derogatory and/or insensitive phrases, making discriminatory statements towards minority groups.
  • Behavioral microaggressions: Acting in a way that expresses discrimination and insensitivity, i.e. facial expressions, dismissive behavior, attributing different qualities and characteristics to different groups, etc. 
  • Environmental microaggressions: The existence of objects (like customized flags that represent harmful ideologies) that actively contribute to discrimination, and to certain minority groups feeling unsafe. This type of microaggression also significantly lessens with remote work, but can still make its presence known in other parts of life.  

In many different ways, these three types of microaggressions go hand in hand, because they’re all usually the result of a larger, systemic problem. Eliminating bias should be everyone’s number one priority to help fight this common issue.

 

Examples of microaggressions at work 

Recognizing and talking about microaggressions in the workplace can be difficult. To help you get more familiarized with the scope of the issue, here are some common microaggressions that you might come across at work: 

  • Not putting the effort to learn how to properly pronounce foreign names,
  • Deliberately using the wrong pronouns for transgender people, 
  • Mocking someone’s accent, or their culture,
  • Undermining successes by patronizing (“You’re really smart for a X”, “You’re really active for someone who’s disabled”, etc.), 
  • Constantly interrupting and talking over people during meetings and social settings (Especially common for women in the workplace),
  • Using sentences like “You speak English really well”, “Where are you really from?” to talk about people’s racial or national background, 
  • Asking people something solely because of stereotypes related to them (i.e., asking an Asian coworker for help with math just because they’re Asian, a gay coworker for fashion advice assuming all gay men are interested in fashion, etc.)
  • Exhibiting “colorblindness”, which is a specific type of ignorance against prominent racial issues (Very commonly; “I don’t see race”), 
  • Denying and/or dismissing identities (for example: claims towards bisexuality “not being a thing”, mental health problems and neurodiversity being “just laziness”),  
  • Avoiding talking about the issues of race/gender/etc. altogether, even when they’re relevant and necessary,
  • Ignoring warnings by minorities about what’s offensive to them & not changing the behavior.

 

What employers can do to create a more inclusive workspace

According to a recent research, only 3% of Black professionals felt safe about going back to the office, because “remote work buffered them from microaggressions”. This necessitates employers to create a more inclusive workplace to safeguard all identities within their organization. 

Here are a few ways to address and combat microaggressions in the workplace:

 

Promote inclusion 

If your workplace practices aren’t inclusive and fair towards all identities, you are automatically discriminating against the less privileged in a systematic way. Instead, you should have a non-discriminatory hiring process to ensure inclusion in the workplace

As an extension to this, your workplace should also be accommodating for different identities. For example, providing communication alternatives for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals, increased accessibility for your office for wheelchair users, moving into a hybrid model to provide alternatives, etc. are all things that you can (and should) look into. If your employees feel understood and accommodated, they will feel much safer and perform a lot better.

 

Provide anti-bias and diversity training 

Perhaps the most integral step towards improvement is for your company to implement workplace microaggression training. This should be mandatory for everyone in your business (managerial roles included), and promote an anti-bias outlook with an emphasis on sensitivity, support, and allyship. Though not a be-all-end-all solution, diversity training will be a big step in knowing how to recognize, warn against, and move away from microaggression.

 

Implement a strict no-discrimination policy  

Last but not least is to have a strict no-discrimination and anti-harassment policy in place. Deciding on preventative measures and what to do after the fact is extremely important. You can also do official research and consult legal professionals to make your policies applicable in the best way.

 

Doing your part 

Microaggressions, despite what their name suggests, have strong and long-lasting effects. To increase inclusivity and foster a work environment that’s safe for everyone, all of us should be actively fighting against workplace microaggressions by taking the necessary steps. 

You can use Ruul to foster all-in-one remote work solutions and help accommodate your employees to work from anywhere they want. Keep following Ruul Blog for more updates and news about modern work culture.

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Ceylin Güven
Ceylin Güven likes reading anything she can get her hands on, writing poetry that’s way too personal, and watching Studio Ghibli movies.
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