Some of the most well-intentioned workplace conversations don’t always turn out as planned. Statements made in an effort to be supportive or complimentary can end up being insulting and hurtful.
A microaggression is a statement or action regarded as an occurrence of indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group, including groups formed around gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, age and ability.
Microaggressions contribute to feelings of exclusion in and from the workplace and negatively impact an organization’s culture. Even members of marginalized groups have biases and prejudices and can make discriminatory comments toward others. Sometimes the statements or actions are so subtle they can take the recipient by surprise.
Microaggressions can occur in the workplace, during meetings or casual conversations, and can be difficult to understand or detect. When someone sees or hears a microaggression, they may freeze due to a fear or uncertainty about how to respond.
So what’s the solution for reducing instances of microaggressive language and behavior?
Allies in the workplace work to reduce bias, heighten awareness and build cultures of inclusivity. Allies encourage cultures of inclusion through their constructive and mindful efforts. According to the SHRM news article “Workplace Allies Serve as Ambassadors for Change,” “People can serve as allies for co-workers through simple actions that will have lasting, beneficial effects on those co-workers' careers and, in the process, will create an inclusive work environment.” And while it can be helpful in various situations for individuals to respond to a microaggression in the moment, allies go a step further to serve as ongoing ambassadors for change.
In her blog post "Learning to be a Better Ally," employment attorney Heather Bussing writes, “It starts with opening our own minds and hearts to the experience of others and using our privilege and position to listen, learn, and open doors. It also requires understanding that what worked for me could be impossible for someone else because of a million different things. Some I may understand; others I can't even imagine. We know that different perspectives create better insight, strategy, and decisions because we are not blinded by our limited views and assumptions. It's time to get curious and educate ourselves on the experiences of others and the barriers they face, work on ourselves to see our own privilege and biases, and learn to stand up for others in ways that are useful and effective.”
How are you becoming an ally in your workplace and what are you doing to increase inclusivity across your organization?
Please join @shrmnextchat at 3 p.m. ET on September 18 for #Nextchat with special guest Heather Bussing (@heatherbussing). We’ll chat about microaggression, allies and how to build cultures of inclusivity in your workplace.
Q1. Describe a time you felt you didn't belong. What would have made a difference?
Q2. Describe a microaggression you have experienced.
Q3. If you’ve ever been the target of a microaggression, how did you respond when you witnessed it happen to another and it was your turn to be an ally?
Q4. If you’ve ever been called out for a microaggression due to your comments or actions, how did you respond?
Q5. What are some actions individuals or allies can take in the moment when they see discrimination or harassment?
Q6. What are some tools and resources that organizations can use to make work more inclusive?
Q7. What are some things you are personally doing to become a better ally in your workplace?