Any business owner or manager who is serious about diversity, equality, and inclusion should make understanding microaggressions a priority.
The term “microaggressions” was first coined in the 1970s by Dr. Chester Pierce. This concept is rooted in the idea that many well-meaning white people unconsciously act in racist ways, but don’t want to admit that something they did has caused a negative effect because they think they are a good person.
Because of that, these kinds of acts—most of which are not infractions at the level of termination of employment—are not often discussed. And if it isn’t addressed, you may find yourself having a hard time retaining underrepresented employees.
This month The most versatile work center workshop from Technical He took the topic face to face. led the virtual session Tamara RaspberryOwner Raspberry Consultinga HR consulting firm with a focus on addressing mental health in the workplace and developing HR strategies through the lens of DEI.
‘Dirty every day’
Rasberry calls microaggressions “the everyday verbal and nonverbal insults, humiliations, or insults that people receive based on their being members of a marginalized community.”
Microaggressions send the message that employees from marginalized communities are in some way inferior. Sometimes they express discomfort being around this person or are surprised that they are not behaving in the way the little attacker expected.
Microaggression may come in three basic classifications, first proposed in 2007 by Dr.. Derald Wing Soo:
- microsault Deliberate acts of overt racism such as racial insults (usually sent anonymously or as part of a so-called joke) or statements such as “You people don’t know how to act”
- Micro Authentication The concept of “alien in your land”, when people assume that a person is not from the United States because of their appearance, falls under this category. Examples include “You speak good English” and ask “Where are you from?” And not accept an answer like “Trenton.”
- Microinsult For example, “You are one of the good ones” or “She is smarter than I thought she would be” comes from the assumption that some groups are somehow less intelligent or less good than others on the basis of race
Aside from microassault, which may be recognized as racist by employers, microassaults are often overlooked. And it often happens, says Rasberry, because of what she calls the denial of individual racism.
Denying individual racism goes along with ‘I’m not racist because I have black friends’, or if you share your experience with someone, they’ll say, ‘Are you sure this happened? Did it really happen this way? I’m sure you got it wrong.
For example, we’ve all heard a difference about someone entering an interview and assuming that the black woman was the receptionist when she was actually the boss. It could be a completely innocent mistake, but if more energy is spent on justifying her as innocent and completely unrelated to race than influencing the black woman who deals with repetitive assumptions that the boss can’t be someone like her, he prioritizes the feelings of the person who did the harm .
Other common subtle types include:
- “I only got the promotion because it’s black”
- “You should move to a better neighborhood”
- “Is this your real hair?”
- “Can you bring me coffee?” (You didn’t offer, it’s not your job and the questioner doesn’t ask white co-workers)
- “Do your part [AAVE] human voice”
- “You are the least terrifying black man I know!”
- “Who knew there were black neuroscientists?”
- “One of my college roommates was black, and she didn’t mind when I did it”
- “Some of us had to work really hard to get into college.”
- “Wow, you’re so much fun! I’m just a boring white guy!”
- “Shut up your girls!” (She did nothing to earn that reputation and just got back from lunch)
- “You are beautiful for a black girl”
- “I’m not a racist, but…”
And yes, some harmful racial micro-aggressions may seem complementary, or they can be attributed to innocent curiosity or even just saying something without thinking. Micro-aggressions often fit a pattern: Comments about hair, “bad” neighborhoods, and unearned opportunities are a common experience of black employees in work environments, regardless of region or industry—and are not isolated incidents.
More subtle habits, more spin
Rasberry’s workshop focused on race, but noted that it’s important to realize that some people who deal with racial micro-aggressions may also have other identities, such as being a woman, being gay, having a disability or being neurotic, They may also encounter other identities. Even more microaggressions because of that.
“according to the World Economic Forum36% of black women who have experienced microaggression within the workplace are more likely to leave their jobs within two years,” Rasberry said. “A lot of research shows that black women specifically experience significantly higher rates of racial microaggression in the workplace.” than other underrepresented persons.
Mental loss for micro-attacks
Any business owner, manager, or operations professional should care more than employee turnover when it comes to issues like microaggression—they should also care about the mental health of their teams.
“I’m not talking about mental illness,” Rasberry said. “I am talking about general mental health in general. However, suffering from racial micro-aggressions indefinitely It can lead to A person with a diagnosable mental illness, such as anxiety or depression. Because their experience every day adds to their negative mental health. And of course, if you already suffer from mental illness, exposure to micro-aggressions at work can exacerbate it.”
She said two things that can increase a person’s likelihood of poor mental health are discrimination and exposure to trauma. Micro-aggressions not only lead to poor mental health, but may also require significant cognitive and emotional resources to recover from.
“Not only are you experiencing anxiety, depression, fatigue, and withdrawal, but you also have to provide additional emotional and mental resources to try to overcome these fears so you can continue with your life,” Rasberry said. . “It makes you not get excited, it makes you antisocial – and then the conversation becomes, ‘Well, they’re not a good fit for the opportunity. They are not a good fit for this promotion, “because they are all these things and have never been before. It is a vicious cycle.”
Is remote work the solution?
Maybe, but not completely.
“Over the past two years since the COVID pandemic began, more black employees have had the opportunity to work remotely, and in some ways it has been a very positive experience because you don’t deal with these everyday things, but there are still things that can be done,” Raspberry said. They are micro-aggressions that you experience by default.”
Some of these hypothetical microaggressions involve asking questions like, “Should I be concerned about shooting you?” During a Zoom call, and not giving the employee a chance to speak in the virtual meeting.
“I hear a lot of people saying they want to work remotely so they don’t have to try these kinds of things,” she said. “But you should really know that you can definitely still experience some types of regression even when you know you have an understanding of what microaggressions in the workplace are.”
How should leaders deal with microaggression?
Small infractions are affected by issues outside the company leader’s purview – systemic things like housing and classrooms, stereotypes in the media, and a lack of social and historical education. But just because you’re not likely to eliminate it completely on your own doesn’t mean you can’t help make your workplace safer for marginalized employees.
Conscious steps to take include:
- Gain awareness and understanding of bias, including your own
- Include addressing micro-aggression in your policies and procedures
- Train employees on what micro-aggressions are
- Lead by example by deliberately not committing microaggressions
- Inform employees that micro-aggression is unacceptable behavior, and establish reasonable consequences if reported
- If you haven’t done so already, develop an inclusive culture, so when someone experiences minor aggression at work, they can feel comfortable talking to someone
- Allow marginalized employees to have space to discuss their experiences among themselves (for example, employee resource groups)
- Talk to marginalized employees so that you are aware of any issues that may need to be addressed
- Offer self-care and coping strategies, and allow employees to use their own coping strategies when needed
Watch the full workshop here:
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