In today’s ever-diverse workplaces, diversity and inclusion have become not just buzzwords but integral components of a thriving organization.
While many organizations have attempted to address workplace discrimination, microaggressions often creep into the workplace, creating uncomfortable and sometimes hostile environments for marginalized communities and individuals.
These subtle offhand remarks, intentional or unintentional, can significantly impact an individual's well-being and productivity.
DEI expert Risha Grant joined me to unpack what microaggressions are and how to deal with microaggressions at work so that you can foster a better and more inclusive workplace.
Microaggressions are everyday verbal or non-verbal slights, snubs, or insults often deeply rooted in stereotypes or biases. Risha explained how everyone has developed biases and stereotypes over their lifetime. We’ve been influenced by our family and friends, school and social environments, the media, and even the government. Together, they form our “bias sphere,” which subconsciously colors how we view others.
Microaggressive remarks or behaviors communicate hostile or derogatory messages to marginalized communities or individuals, often unintentionally. In fact, many times, the actor believes they are paying a compliment when, in reality, the impact is hurtful.
For example, Risha shared her experience of being told, "You are such a credit to your race." Subtle or unintentional comments like this convey rudeness and insensitivity.
Another example is undermining or dismissing marginalized individuals' thoughts, experiences, and feelings, like saying to an Asian-American colleague, "Your English is really good," while assuming they come from a non-English speaking country or telling a Black person, "All lives matter" in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Even small things like mispronouncing someone’s name because it’s too difficult or unusual or assuming an older worker isn’t capable of using a specific technology are microaggressions.
The Impact of Microaggressions at Work
Microaggressions may seem harmless to people who don't experience marginalization, so raising awareness of how they impact targeted people's lives is essential.
While they seem small on the surface, their cumulative effect on someone could be measured on a “macro” level. As Risha put it, over time, it can feel like your skin is raw and tender from a thousand small cuts. This leads to marginalized individuals coming to work with a wall around them as they attempt to avoid further microaggressions.
In the workplace, microaggressions can profoundly impact workplace dynamics, employee morale, collaborative teamwork, and overall productivity.
When people in the organization fail to notice and address these microaggressions at work, sadly, it reinforces those biases and creates a workplace for them to thrive. And this could be damaging to the organization as a whole.
For an organization to thrive, you want your employees to feel great at work, and you want it to be a place that they want to come to every day.
What Can You Do as a Manager
Managers play a pivotal role in addressing and eliminating microaggressions at work. But eradicating microaggressions doesn't happen overnight, and it certainly isn't only one person’s job.
Here are a couple of ways Risha shared on the podcast on how managers should deal with microaggressions and create a more inclusive workplace.
The first step managers can take is to listen to their employees–listen to understand, not just respond. When someone from your team reports a microaggression incident, don’t say, "Are you sure the person meant it that way?". Instead, thank them for bringing it to your attention.
If you want to stop microaggressive behaviors, you need to validate their experience, even if you don’t agree with or understand it.
When a microaggression is reported or observed, it's crucial for managers to address it promptly. Risha suggests bringing people together for a listening circle. Provide a space for folks to say, "You know, when you said that, it really hit me the wrong way." Allow each person to share more about themselves overall because when you understand and get to know a person, you begin to break away some of those barriers that are naturally there.
The last step in addressing microaggressions is to ensure everyone understands what they are and their harmful effects. Managers can organize training sessions, workshops, and discussions to educate their teams about microaggressions, emphasizing that even unintentional behavior can be hurtful.
You can give examples of microaggressive behaviors in your employee handbook and implement a zero-tolerance policy for microaggressions and discrimination in the workplace.
Over time, microaggressive behaviors should dissipate, and people will feel more comfortable speaking up in the moment. Risha’s favorite phrase is, “What did you mean by that?”. It instantly helps someone recognize that their comments were based on biases and discrimination.
Dealing with microaggressions requires a proactive and committed approach to communication, education, and accountability. By taking these steps above, managers can foster a more inclusive workplace where employees can thrive and do their best at work.
For an in-depth discussion about microaggressions and how to foster an inclusive workplace through radical acceptance, listen to my entire conversation with award-winning diversity consultant and international corporate speaker Risha Grant HERE.
Connect with Risha:
- Follow Risha on Instagram here
- Follow her on Twitter here
- Check her out on LinkedIn here
- Visit her official website for more information here
Guest Bonus: 5 Copies of Be Better Than Your BS Book
Risha is happy to offer 5 copies of “Be Better Than Your BS: How Radical Acceptance Empowers Authenticity and Creates a Workplace Culture of Inclusion” to members of The Modern Manager community.
Using stories from her personal and professional journey as well as those of her clients, Grant encourages you to first examine the roots of your own BS through a process of radically accepting yourself and then to build a BS-free culture, which can only happen when you learn to radically accept others. She also shares the exercises, tools, and strategies she has taught thousands of people at all levels to make their workplaces more accepting, inclusive, and productive.
Get a chance to win a copy of this book and many other member benefits when you join The Modern Manager Community.
The Modern Manager is a leadership podcast for rockstar managers who want to create a working environment where people thrive, and great work gets done.
Follow The Modern Manager on your favorite podcast platform so you won’t miss an episode!