Let’s talk microaggressions. Merriam-Webster defines microaggressions as

a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.

In short, a microaggression is someone verbalizing their unconscious racial, cultural, or sexist bias. Many times the person who is exhibiting the microaggression doesn’t even realize they’re doing it.  I’m going to explain to you some examples of microaggressions in the workplace and how to deal with them when you’re faced with them.

Many people think “but I’m a minority, I can’t exhibit microaggressions.” Even as a black woman, during my research to write this blog I have realized that I too am guilty of some of these things. I will now be working to actively avoid it going forward.

I’m going to be honest. Most people don’t intend to be racist, sexist, or homophobic and probably don’t think they’re even capable of being able to be discriminatory or bias. This is where microaggressions come in. It’s the behavior that you or someone else exhibits that communicates a derogatory or hostile message to another person. These microaggressions stem from assumptions made about a person based on their race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, or even age.

Microaggressions can create a negative and toxic workplace. A toxic workplace creates high turnover and bad working conditions.

Recognizing Microaggressions

If you have never thought about microaggressions, you may not know when you’re exhibiting the signs. Let’s go through a few of the themes/ways to spot microaggressions along with examples.

Traditional Gender Role Stereotyping
This occurs when someone automatically assumes you have to do a job because you’re a woman. “You’re applying for the assistant role right?” “There’s no way that you can be an engineer.” This is insulting. It’s the 21st century. Women and men can do the same jobs.
Office/Housework Related
Do you find yourself asking the only women in the room to take notes? Is it in her job description? Why Are you asking her? It’s 100% because she’s a woman. Don’t do that. Just don’t.
Ascription of Intelligence
This is one that I have personally experienced recently. It is assigning intelligence because of one’s race or gender. Think of it as “You are very well-spoken” (How often have you heard that as a black person in corporate America?) or the automatic assumption that Asian’s have to be super smart. Many of these things come from inherent biases that we have to learn to move past.
Color Blindness
Many people think that saying “I don’t see color” is a compliment, but it is, in fact, a microaggression. Telling your black, Hispanic, or Asian friend that you don’t see color when you talk to them is not a compliment, in fact, it is an insult. It is sending a message that you are denying their cultures.
How to Offend Without Even Trying
These are the microaggressions that you may not be aware of. It’s the casual “That’s so gay.” and the “You people…” or even the “Indian giver…” it’s the offensive statements that are rooted in bigotry, hate, and evil stereotypes.

Microaggressions can affect any minority, this means regardless of if you are a minority race, gender, or sexual identity. You don’t have to deal with them though. You can talk to someone, report it to someone, or even stand up to it yourself.

How to Deal With It

Pause. Ask them to repeat or clarify what they meant, or even just take a moment to decide if you want to react or even respond at all.

Assumption. Don’t get defensive. You don’t want to get into an argument, that’s not the intent of dealing with the situation. You want this to be a situation of growth, not one of a hinderance. Where does their mindset come from? Can this be a learning situation? The message sent is not always the message received, and the intended meaning is often lost in translation.

Cut ‘Em Some Slack. Test your assumption. If you assume that they’re a jerk, test it. Maybe they are. Think about a time that you forgot to text someone back. They were probably pissed and thought that you were being a jerk, but in actuality you truly just forgot. This may be their case, it wasn’t an intentional thing on their part, but if they didn’t know they didn’t know BUT if it happens AFTER you told them….. don’t give slack again.

Explain. Tell them how their statement made you feel, hurt, or it impacted you. Start your sentence with: “This was likely not intentional but…”, “It may surprise you to hear this but….”, “You may not realize this but….” 

Perspective. Don’t just tell them they’re wrong. They’ll automatically become defensive (don’t we all). You have to tell them. “That’s not alway’s right, I’ve experienced it as…”

You Can Make A Difference

Microaggressions have micro in the name, but there is nothing micro about them. They can make a great workplace a toxic one. Your words have power. It’s up to you to decide how you will use them.


3 Comments on “You Speak So Well” – Microaggressions in the Corporate World

  1. I’m at the point in my career where I am constantly a microagression away from snapping and “keeping” it real but I’ve learned that it can become emotionally taxing very fast so I try and just shake it off more.

  2. You speak so well, gets on my nerves!! Thank you for sharing this post not only did I learn a term that I see so often, I’ve also learned ways to curve them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *