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How To Handle Microaggressions At Work

How To Handle Microaggressions At Work by NeverGrowUp®

Microaggressions are seemingly negligible actions that may go unnoticed, but their repercussions can be profound.

Picture this: an offhand remark, a stereotypical joke, or a dismissive gesture may appear harmless, yet they hold the power to make employees feel excluded, unwelcome, and even unsafe.

If you’ve experienced this firsthand or are curious about identifying microaggressions at work, this blog is for you.

Understanding The Psychology Behind It

Everyday slights, comments, or actions that communicate derogatory or demeaning messages towards marginalised individuals or groups can be are all considered to be microaggressions. They often occur unintentionally, reflecting deep-seated biases or prejudices. These actions can be based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or any other characteristic that makes an individual part of a minority group.

When people experience these subtle actions over and over again, it can start to wear them down, activating a heightened state of vigilance and stress, commonly known as the 'minority stress model.' This can then lead to psychological distress, anxiety, and even depression over time.

Common examples of microaggressions include asking a person of colour where they are "really" from, assuming someone's gender based on appearance, or making stereotypical comments about a person's abilities or disabilities.

Just because something is negligible does not mean it is okay.

When employees experience microaggressions on a regular basis, they can feel constantly stressed, anxious, and on edge. This can lead to decreased job satisfaction, reduced productivity, and even higher turnover rates among minority employees, hindering diversity and inclusion efforts within an organisation.

Microaggressions can also be the beginning of bullying.

When someone makes a microaggression, it sends the message that they don't respect the person who is being targeted. This can make the person feel like they are not welcome or accepted, which can make them a target for more serious forms of bullying.

How Do You Identify Microaggressions?

Backhanded Compliments: A compliment that seems positive but actually has negative or insulting meaning. For example, saying "You're so articulate for someone from your background" implies that people of a certain background are not typically articulate.

Stereotyping: This is making assumptions about an individual based on their appearance or perceived characteristics. For example, assuming that a woman is not interested in leadership roles because she is a woman!

Microinvalidations: These are comments or actions that dismiss someone's experiences or feelings. For example, saying "You're overreacting" when someone expresses concerns about discrimination is a clear microinvalidation.

Environmental Microaggressions: These are offensive images, symbols, or messages that may trigger discomfort or anxiety for certain people. This can also be a result of the absence of diversity training in a workplace.

Exoticisation: This is treating someone as an exotic attraction or token representative of their racial or cultural background. For example, asking a person of colour to speak their native language so that you can "hear it" is an example of exoticization.

Leadership Has A Thing Or Two To Say

Creating an environment where microaggressions are minimised requires strong leadership and a commitment to inclusion. Here are some strategies to help address them.

Education and Awareness: Conduct workshops and training sessions to educate employees about the subtle nature and impact of microaggressions. Create awareness of unconscious biases and encourage open conversations on this subject.

Lead by Example: You must practise what is being preached. When employees see their executives treating everyone with respect and fairness, it sets the tone for the entire organisation.

Implement Clear Policies: Develop clear and comprehensive policies that outline zero-tolerance for any form of discrimination, including microaggressions. Communicate these policies regularly to reinforce their importance.

Encourage Reporting: Create a safe reporting mechanism for employees to share their experiences with microaggressions. Encouraging reporting can help identify patterns and areas that require improvement.

The Impact On Employer Branding

Microaggressions can be like a maze: subtle and difficult to identify. But there’s always a way out. Addressing microaggressions is not just a necessity; it is a strategic move to enhance employer branding. Organisations that prioritise diversity and inclusion are more likely to attract top talent from diverse backgrounds. A reputation for fostering an inclusive workplace resonates positively with job seekers, especially the millennial and Gen Z workforce, who value diversity and social responsibility in their employers.

How To React When Someone Calls You Out

If someone calls you out on your microaggression, it's important to listen to them and try to understand why they were offended.

Pause and Reflect: Instead of becoming defensive, take a moment to reflect on your words or actions. Acknowledge that unintentional harm can still be hurtful and is worth addressing.

Listen with Empathy: Listen actively to the person calling out the microaggression. Show empathy and understanding, recognising that their experience and feelings are valid.

Apologise Sincerely: Offer a genuine apology, taking responsibility for the unintended impact of your words or actions. Avoid making excuses!

Make Amends: If appropriate, take steps to repair the relationship and demonstrate a commitment to change. This may involve learning more about the culture, engaging in diversity training, or seeking guidance from the organisation's resources.

Remember, microaggressions may be subtle, but their impact is everlasting!


Psst! This blog was made with💚, lots of teamwork, and edited by a human with some help from generative AI. We're not ones to steal credit. #PuttingItOutThere


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