What Are Microaggressions and How Do They Show Up?

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Microaggressions have been a hot topic term when it comes to DEI work and the workplace. First coined by Harvard professor Chester M. Pierce, the term microaggression described the insults and slights he had witnessed against black folks. In 2007 the word was revived to be used more broadly to describe insults and slights against people from all marginalized identities. 

In the workplace, many folks from marginalized identities experience microaggression daily, some subtle, some not. As many workers return to the office, the discussion around microaggressions has heightened. As many organizations talk about their DEI efforts, there has been a call to address microaggressions in the workplace.  

Why are microaggressions so harmful?

There are three forms of microaggressions: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations. All of these can take place in the workplace, whether in the recruitment, interview, onboarding, or performance review processes. 

Why is it important to combat microaggressions?

Over time, the compounding damage of microaggressions causes health issues for workers. When microaggressions occur, they can leave the recipient questioning their own identities and whether or not they belong in a space. If a person continually causes harm to others, it’s essential to build a culture around addressing microaggressions and ending them. 

Some common workplace microaggressions:

  • Always asking women, in particular women of color, to do office housework
  • Saying things like, “you’re so articulate.”
  • Comments like, “where are you really from?”
  • Assuming gender pronouns
  • Mispronouncing an employee’s name

Overall some of the ways to combat microaggressions in the workplace:

  • Acknowledge that microaggressions occur daily in and out of the workplace
  • Believe and support employees/colleagues who report experiencing a microaggression
  • Foster an environment that encourages open and honest conversations
  • Develop formal and informal ways to provide and receive feedback
  • Offer training and opportunities to support employees in their diversity, equity, and inclusion journey