Workplace Culture

Addressing Microaggressions in the Workplace

November 19, 2021

When we talk about racism and other forms of discrimination, we tend to think of it as a global issue and ignore the grassroots implications on everyday life. These discriminatory traits can creep into the workplace in the form of microaggressions and can be extremely harmful to your workplace environment and affect employee morale.

To build an inclusive workplace, we need to be sensitive to others and aware of our actions and biases. To help you achieve that, let us first understand what microaggressions are and what organizations can do to eliminate microaggressions from their workplace.

What are microaggressions?

Members of marginalized groups continue to encounter racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression in both obvious and understated ways. Microaggressions are the more subtle, everyday slights and insults marginalized groups face in their daily interactions with others. These microaggressions can be damaging to individuals and workplaces as they are a form of discriminatory behaviour. By being aware of and eliminating microaggressions in the workplace, organizations can help to foster a sense of belonging and a workplace culture free from the toxicity and discrimination that arise out of biases.

Identifying microaggressions in the workplace with examples

Microaggressions may be intentional or unintentional, and often the offenders are unaware that they are doing anything wrong. “Complimenting” a person of colour by telling them that they are well-spoken, for example, is a microaggression. This seeming compliment perpetuates the idea that it’s unusual or remarkable for a person of colour to be articulate, intelligent, or educated. Microaggressions like this contain an insult, communicate a bias, and convey a stereotype. Whether the comment was intended to offend or not, the effect is the same. The insulting comment makes the individual feel like an outcast who doesn’t belong.

Microaggressions also include comments that discount the experiences of others, such as a white person stating, “I don’t see colour,” or “If you try hard enough, anyone can succeed.” These statements deny the realities and systemic barriers that marginalized people face. Some microaggressions can be expressed through actions rather than words. Consider the example of a woman at a business meeting who is constantly interrupted by male colleagues. These interruptions reinforce ideas about the subordination of women and sexual or gender minorities. Though these actions and comments might seem minor, the consequences compound over time and can affect the psychological well-being and physical health of those on the receiving end.

Consequences of microaggressions in the workplace

Microaggressions can be as harmful as a blatant derogatory remark. These behaviours, if overlooked, can contribute to toxic work culture, lower productivity, increase stress, and even escalate to a more serious incidents like harassment. Tolerance of microaggressions can also alienate staff members, causing them to look elsewhere for employment.

By addressing microaggressions at work, you can foster an environment of inclusion and respect for all. In addition, valuing the opinions and views of a diverse workforce is the right thing to do morally and can also help organizations retain their employees. According to Indeed, diversity increases creativity, better decision-making, profitability, and productivity and enhances employee engagement and retention. A recent Glassdoor survey even found that a diverse workplace is one of the main factors many job candidates look for when considering a new position.

Guide to eliminating microaggressions

Now that we have discussed what microaggressions are and how they can be harmful for your organization, let us find out how to avoid them. First, it is crucial to reflect deeply on your workplace culture and admit the possibility that any workplace is vulnerable to microaggressions, no matter how inclusive it may seem. Moreover, addressing these issues even if they don’t prevail in your workplace can be an excellent precautionary measure.

That is why our team of HR experts has created a comprehensive employer’s guide on the issue. Download our FREE Guide to Eliminating Microaggressions, which outlines the steps you can take to address this issue at your workplace and promote a more inclusive environment at your organization.

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