Organizations worldwide have started conversations around race, inclusion, and diversity. Many initiatives have been taken to pave the way for an inclusive workplace. However, we still hear about incidents of aggression. Often someone accidentally or intentionally makes an offensive statement. Such statements or actions against members of marginalized groups have been referred to as ‘microaggressions’. These can be challenging to recognize, especially in the case of microaggression at work. Microaggression often targets women, people of color, individuals with disabilities, transgender people, and religious minorities. At times, people who perpetrate microaggressions believe that it is ‘just a joke.’
Microaggressions at work targeted at women can be extremely demeaning and may harm their confidence. Here, we will talk about types of microaggressions at work and how you should respond.
Types of Microaggression at Work
Before we talk about how to respond, let us understand the different types of microaggression that can prevail in workplaces:
- Verbal Microaggression: A verbal microaggression can be a statement, phrase, or insulting question that may be derogatory to women. For instance, a comment like ‘You are so smart being a woman’ or ‘Never thought a woman could do it’.
- Behavioral Microaggression: This type of microaggression could be seen in an individual’s behavior. For instance, male managers ignore female employees and do not encourage them to participate in conversations.
- Environmental Microaggression: In this type of microaggression, the environment sends a message of invalidation and may make women feel excluded. For instance, the leadership community comprising men in the workplace may make women feel excluded. As a female employee, you might think you will not be heard and/or considered.
Classifications of Microaggression
As a woman, you should know what microaggression at work looks like. It will help you identify the different forms. According to Psychologist Dr. Derald Wing Sue, it can be classified into the following three categories:
- Micro assaults: It is when an individual intentionally makes a derogatory comment or behaves in a discriminatory manner. However, he/she may not do it on purpose. For instance, an employee called out a woman for being too thin and said, “I was just joking.”
- Microinsults: A microinsult could unintentionally harm or demean a person’s identity or heritage. For example, comments like “Your people must be so proud” or “How did you get this job despite being a woman?”
- Microinvalidations: It may occur when an individual tries to negate a woman’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. For example, using statements like “We all have equal rights for centuries” or “I do not see women facing any challenges in our society.”
How to Respond to Microaggression at Work?
There are three main ways to react and respond to microaggressions in the workplace:
- You can choose to let it go.
- You can respond immediately.
- You can choose to respond later.
You should always consider raising your voice if you face microaggression at work. Avoid letting it go, as it could have harmful effects in the long run. You can choose to respond immediately or respond later. However, addressing microaggression is essential and will also make you feel empowered. Here are some of the steps you can take to address microaggression in the workplace:
Allow Yourself the Time to Feel
Whether it is frustration, anger, confusion, disappointment, or any other feeling, you should give yourself the time to feel it. If you do not feel like saying anything, you should walk away. It is not always required to respond immediately. All emotions you feel are legitimate, however, if you feel confused, you should avoid making an immediate response.
You can never challenge the stereotypes until you face them or express them yourself. But you should always be polite in your approach and try to be empathetic. Ask the colleague how he/she would have felt if you had said a similar statement. Instead of making a big issue, you should try expressing and communicating it with the employees.
Read Also: How Women Can Find and Own their Voice
Ask for Clarification
Sometimes, it can be an unintentional behavior or comment from another person. Therefore, you should take a moment to pause and ask the other person for clarification. Listen to their viewpoints carefully. You must realize that people from different cultures and backgrounds have different views. You could simply say, “Could you please tell me what you mean by this?” It will clarify your thoughts and help you understand the entire context of the conversation.
Listen and Understand
We often try to interrupt and have the habit of speaking in between. However, you should avoid interrupting during uncomfortable situations. Listen to your colleague’s perspectives to understand their thought processes. Do not listen to them disagree and showcase that you are right.
You can later paraphrase their statements and confirm what you heard. Based on that, you should further raise your point and communicate. Enlighten them with your views on the subject and tell them how it has affected you. Share references from the past or explain how that statement can be demeaning to you. Be polite and try to make them understand your perspective.
Think How You Will be Perceived
Whether you choose to remain silent or prefer to speak up, you should know that there can be consequences for both situations. If it was an intentional comment, you should step ahead and raise your voice. Think about how you want to be perceived in the organization. You would be better positioned to determine what direction the conversation could take. Judge properly and speak up for what you feel is right.
Speak to Your Mentor
If uncomfortable confronting the person, consider talking to your leader or mentor. They could help resolve the concern and may take further initiatives to help with the issue.
Read Also: 3 Ways to Find a Great Business Mentor
Advocate for Policy Changes
One can only reduce microaggression at work by advocating for policy and organizational changes. It is necessary to spread awareness amongst coworkers and educate them about microaggressions. You can communicate with the leaders and promote change in the organization.
Microaggression at work can be damaging to the well-being of employees. Many organizations have started taking DEI initiatives to build an inclusive work culture. However, you must consider raising your voice if you face any challenges or microaggression. We have listed certain things you must remember before responding to microaggressions at work.
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