In today’s society, creating workplaces that promote diversity and inclusion is crucial in building employee well-being and organisational success. While overt discrimination is widely condemned, there are often subtle and unnoticed harms that may persist: microaggressions.
Microaggressions are subtle, and often unintentional behaviours that may belittle or demean individuals on the grounds of their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or other defining characteristics. They may be rooted in unconscious biases, through stereotypes, or power dynamics, and have undertones of racism, ageism, sexism, and ableism. Examples of microaggressions may include comments such as; “You’re so well-spoken for someone of your background”, or “I didn’t think someone like you could do this”.
Microaggressions in the workplace can also extend further than verbal microaggressions. They may be expressed as behavioural microaggressions, such as assuming one’s pronouns or personal feedback of a cultural or sexist nature. Microaggressions can also be seen in an environmental setting, whereby workplaces may unintentionally create an ableist environment that does not readily accommodate for employees with disabilities, or not supporting people of colour in promotions in the workplace.
Experiencing microaggressions at work is difficult and unfortunately common in many workplaces, and can lead to decreased job satisfaction, lowered self-esteem or self-confidence, and an increase in stress or anxiety.
It is therefore essential for us to recognise the signs of microaggressions and to take proactive steps to address these subtle harms in the workplace.
Here are a few suggestions on addressing microaggressions in the workplace:
Educate Yourself: Familiarising yourself with the different types of microaggressions and their effect, so that they can be quickly identified, is the first step towards change. By being aware of the occurrence of microaggressions you can build confidence to speak up, seek support or help support others.
Seek Support: Prioritise your self-care and seek support from trusted colleagues or professional counsellors who can provide guidance and support if you are experiencing microaggressions.
Be Honest: Engage in open and respectful dialogue with the person perpetrating the microaggression, if you are comfortable, and it is safe to do so. Explaining to them how their actions or words have affected you can give them the opportunity to reflect and understand how their behaviour has harmed you.
Report to the Proper Authority: Where open dialogue is not effective, reporting mechanisms may be necessary. Inform your Human Resources department or Management about incidents, providing details and evidence where possible. It is important to speak up for yourself and others when experiencing harmful microaggressions.
Microaggressions may seem subtle and insignificant at the surface-level, however their occurrence can be deeply hurtful and have long-lasting and far-reaching impacts on individuals and overall workplace dynamics. By identifying and recognising these subtle harms, educating oneself , and further implementing strategies to proactively address these microaggressions, we can create a more inclusive and respectful workplace where employees can feel comfortable and thrive.
Remember that as everyone deserves an equal, fair, and comfortable working environment, the first step is crucial, to identify these subtle harms and to minimise microaggressions in the workplace.
If you are experiencing microaggresions or other work stress, please reach out for support by calling 1300 187 448 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.