Many employers hear the term “microaggressions” and think that they’re just trivial slights that employees take too seriously. Indeed, microaggressions don’t include things like vicious racial or homophobic slurs and not being considered for a job because of your gender, race or other protected characteristic.
However, as anyone who belongs to one of these groups will attest, microaggressions are often constant and exhausting. One article in American Psychologist defined them as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group.”
What are some examples of microaggressions?
Questions like “Where are you from?” or statements like, “Your English is very good” directed at people born and raised in this country are common microaggressions suffered by people of various ethnic backgrounds. Every group has its own examples.
Microaggressions generally result more from ignorance and underlying prejudice than any attempt to hurt someone. Often, people insist that they’re just making a joke or even giving a compliment.
For example, microaggressions include statements like, “You’re very articulate,” or “You’re so pretty. You can’t tell that you’re a lesbian” or “You’re very independent for someone in a wheelchair.” People don’t understand why the person their “compliment” was directed at isn’t thanking them for their kind words. However, microaggressions can make that person feel “othered” and demeaned, which is not conducive to a healthy, productive workplace or team camaraderie.
Often, employees don’t report these microaggressions because they fear they’re overreacting. They may think that reporting them will just make them stand out even more. If they do report them, their complaint may not be taken seriously, either by management or even human resources professionals.
Why should employers take microaggressions seriously?
They can be a symptom of a much larger and more dangerous culture of prejudice in the workplace. The sooner it’s addressed, the less chance you’ll have of these microaggressions giving way to full-blown discrimination and harassment. This can put your company on the wrong end of a legal claim that can be not only costly but damaging to your reputation.
If you need help addressing microaggressions and other discriminatory speech and actions at your company in your employment documents and in staff training, it can be helpful to seek legal guidance.