Welcome to UNVAELD where unlocking the full potential of your workforce becomes your competitive advantage.

What are microaggressions?


Follow the author on LinkedIn
https://www.linkedin.com/in/latifa-winston/

Microaggressions are subtle, indirect, and sometimes even unintentional comments or behaviours to people who are part of a marginalised group. Dictionary.com describes microaggressions in more detail below:

Microaggression [my-kro-uh-gresh-uhn)

Noun
1. a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a member of a marginalized group, especially a racial minority, that is often unintentionally offensive or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype

  1. the act of discriminating against a marginalized group by means of such comments or actions.

 

Examples of microaggressions 

An early microaggression I first noticed was when I was at school, and my English teacher would pronounce my name incorrectly on purpose. She would butcher my name every time she referred to me, despite the fact that I *constantly* corrected her.

So, to be petty, I would intentionally mispronounce her ‘easy’ British surname (which you can imagine, was seen as an act of defiance to her and she would ALWAYS correct me, but I just couldn’t seem to get it right. Can’t say I regret it though).

As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that microaggressions are sadly so common everywhere you go, including the workplace. Here’s some examples below which you may have seen, heard or unknowingly said or thought yourself:

  • Colour blindness “I don’t see colour” or “All lives matter!” Essentially denying the importance of BAME people’s racial or ethnic experience and history.
  • Sexual objectification “I wouldn’t usually say yes but because you’re sexy I can’t say no.’ Showing unwanted preferential treatment based on physical appearance.
  • Use homophobic/transphobic colloquialisms saying things like “that’s so gay” when describing something as lacklustre or subpar as if to imply that being gay is a negative thing to be.
  • Grouping together demographics of people as 2nd class citizens or lesser than saying things like “you people” or saying, “black women intimidate me because I find them very loud and aggressive.”
  • Assumptions of inferiority assuming a disabled person is less competent than able bodied people or making comments like “The fact that you are struggling with X disability is so inspiring”. Or saying to a black person or someone who English isn’t their first language “wow you’re so articulate!”
  • Placing little importance on different religious groups & their right to observe religious holidays & practices saying stuff like “I couldn’t fast for 30 days, don’t know how you guys do it!” or refusing to acknowledge or make recommended and reasonable adjustments to accommodate colleagues/staff during this time.
  • Denial saying things like “I don’t see colour!!” or “I’m not racist, I have black friends and family members” or “I’m not transphobic, I just don’t understand it!”
  • Nit-picking provoking questions like “why are you getting angry” also known as “tone policing” to BAME, are often accused as being angry or aggressive.

The list is (sadly) exhaustive, and this isn’t even all of the examples I could think of, but it’s a start. 

How do we tackle Microaggression at work? 

  1. Building a genuinely inclusive workplace means real candid and authentic conversations about challenging subjects such as race, sexuality, gender. It is a natural worry that we may commit a microaggression by asking questions for the sake of genuine understanding, but end up saying the wrong thing. The more awareness and openness we have about how microaggressions ‘rears it’s ugly head’ in workplace, the better chance of being able to recognise and tackle them when we notice microaggressions happening.
  2. Read the room and try and be considerate in creating a safe and open space for yourself and others when addressing microaggressions. Sometimes, the issue is a handle ‘then and there’ type of situation. Other situations may need escalating, asking permission of the affected before escalating, keeping an audit trail or noticing a pattern of behaviour over time. Your colleagues may get on the defence if they feel like you’re calling them out on the spot, so potentially pulling them to the side and saying things like ‘Hey, I know you probably didn’t mean X comment, but next time maybe try addressing it like ….”
  3. Assess your relationship with the person who’s made the comment or action. Is the person close enough to you for you directly address the situation? If not, what do you know about that person? When considering how to address the issue like making sure another trusted member of staff is present for example.
  4. What is your personal awareness of the microaggression topic? It’s OK to not know something but try not to speak to much on things you don’t know a lot about, as you could misinform or mistakenly say the wrong thing without knowing the full history or impact of it. Be honest with your level familiarity of the subject at hand and consider doing some self-work by reading, researching or listening to podcasts about the subjects from people it affects directly.
  5. Be clear about the difference between impact and intent. Just because someone didn’t intend to say something offensively, doesn’t mean there wasn’t a negative impact as a result. Saying things like ‘I know you didn’t mean to come off as … but the way it was received was that …” can go a long way in drawing the difference between intent and impact.

 

What If I have committed a microaggression? 

  1. PAUSE – If someone receives your comment to them as micro aggressive, we can naturally get defensive or even offended. Take step back for a moment to reflect on your comment/actions towards that person before jumping on the defence and potentially risk offending them even further. It doesn’t mean that you’re a BAD person, we all make mistakes, the key is in learning to do better next time.
  2. Ask for clarity – if you are unsure about what you said or did to offend your colleague. Invite them for conversation by saying something like “I’m sorry I offended you. Could you let me know more about what you mean by that?” or “would you be open for a further chat about what I said to you earlier? I’d really want to understand better how my comments/tone/actions have affected you”.
  3. LISTEN!! – And I mean really listen. Don’t listen for the sake of responding and proving your innocence. Listen with the purpose of genuinely understanding so that you can do better next time. If someone is sharing your experience with them, try not to chime in with a ‘As a [insert random demographic of person which is completely unrelated] I understand entirely what you’re going through’. Allow people to freely share their experiences and how certain microaggressions affect them at work. Listen with the intent of improving your approach in the future.
  4. Acknowledge and APOLOGISE (GENUINELY!) – Once you have processed that hurt has been caused to another person with or without intent, you must acknowledge your part in this and apologise for your actions and the impact that this has ultimately had on that individual. This is not a moment for “YOU KNOW I’M NOT X-PHOBIC/RACIST/XENOPHOBIC.” and placing the responsibility on the person you’ve hurt, it’s a time to be honest and acknowledging where you went wrong and what you will do going forward in ensuring that this isn’t a regular occurrence.

 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/latifa-winston/ 

Be updated

Register for our mailing list.
Gain early access to our free professional hub and community now.

Be updated

Curious about what we offer?

UNVAELD Professional Help

We do not provide professional help to individuals in urgent crisis. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please call 999 immediately. For support with suicidal thoughts, consider contacting the Samaritans UK, a trusted organisation specialising in confidential assistance during emotional distress. Your safety is paramount and there are professionals available to provide the urgent help required in such critical situations.
We do not provide professional help to individuals in urgent crisis. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please call 999 immediately. For support with suicidal thoughts, consider contacting the Samaritans UK, a trusted organisation specialising in confidential assistance during emotional distress. Your safety is paramount and there are professionals available to provide the urgent help required in such critical situations.