Workplace discrimination is a hot-button issue. Every day, people learn more about their own prejudices and biases, either overt or implicit. Regardless whether a person’s bias is conscious or not, discriminatory words – or microaggressions – can create a hostile work environment that violates an individual’s rights.
What are microaggressions?
Microaggressions are those everyday statements and behaviors that communicate negative messages to parties in a targeted group. Not only can these small acts and careless statements be hurtful, they can also trigger legal action.
Microaggressions often seem harmless to the person making them. Some aggressors even argue that their comment was intended as a compliment. Regardless of the intent, microaggressions convey an underlying message that someone in a marginalized group is less than – even less human than – someone in the dominant group. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Referring to an adult woman as a “girl,” or calling her “honey,” “doll,” or “sweetheart;”
- Asking a person of color where they’re from then, after they say “Kansas City” (or some such American city), following it up with, “No, where are you really from?”
- Calling out racial or cultural stereotypes with expressions like “you people always” sing well, excel at math, win races, etc.;
- Calling someone “exotic;”
- Calling an Asian woman “China doll,” “Tiger Mom,” “Dragon Lady;”
- Stating that “all [fill in the blank] look alike.”
Microaggressions are a problem because they can be so constant and pervasive In the workplace that they negatively impact the victim’s work performance and relationships alike. Thus, there should be no place for microaggressions in an inclusive work environment.
Keeping your workplace free of microaggressions
Employers looking to eliminate microaggressions among their employees can start by understanding what they are and educating others so they are avoided in the future. Complaints about microaggressions should also be taken just as seriously as complaints about more overtly discriminatory events.
Further, employers can take a close look at their own practices and policies. Are you asking problematic or offensive questions during interviews? Are you mistaking a relaxed and “friendly” work culture for one that is fostering insensitivity?
Microaggressions can sound like a small problem to some people. However, over time, they can take a devastating toll on the people subjected to them. Thus, keeping them out of the workplace can not only protect individuals, but can make it easier for an employer to avoid legal action.