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Common Organizational Microaggressions

November 28, 2022

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Organizational microaggressions are subtle remarks and behaviors that target people from marginalized groups. Over time, they can build up and result in a bigger conflict. Some forms of organization microaggression are so subtle that even those targeted do not notice the prejudice in them. While it may come off as a joke for many people, it may trigger a response of pain and hurt from the target. However, you can never ignore the effect of microaggressions on people’s lives. 

Read on to learn more about microaggressions and how you can deal with them to create a healthy and pleasant working environment. 

Type of Microaggressions 

Microaggressions fall into three common categories. Here are the common types and how they occur in an organization. 

  1. Verbal Microaggressions

Verbal microaggressions are the most common. They occur when you or a coworker says something disrespectful, targeting a marginalized person. A good example would be asking a man in a same-sex relationship, "Who plays the role of a woman in your relationship?" 

It can also happen when you mispronounce someone's name because you have difficulty pronouncing it correctly. The continued use of words and phrases others consider offensive also qualifies as microaggression. 

  1. Behavioral Microaggressions

Committing behavioral microaggression is easy, as it can happen subconsciously. However, any action that comes off as problematic or insensitive based on identity stereotypes is a behavioral microaggression. 

Common examples include asking female colleagues to smile more or dress a certain way and excluding disabled workmates when planning after-work events with the assumption that they cannot participate. Assuming older workmates cannot use modern technology is also behavioral microaggression.  

  1. Environmental Microaggressions

This form of microaggression is often much harder to notice. Often, environmental microaggressions occur as a lack of inclusion, diversity, or representation. It can be anything from excluding people of color or those belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community from senior positions. 

Failing to invest in accessible facilities to accommodate people with disability or naming rooms and buildings after people from a specific demographic is also a form of environmental microaggression. 

Examples of Microaggressions at Work 

Microaggressions can target anyone and usually stems from protected characteristics such as age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, race, ethnicity, and even religion. However, it can happen to anyone. Below are examples of common organizational microaggressions. 

LGBTQIA+ 

More than one in every three American faces workplace discrimination due to their sexual orientation. Heterosexism is the most common form of microaggression among the LGBTQIA+ community. Simple questions such as "how long have you and your husband been married?" are based on the assumption of heterosexual relationships but can actually make someone feel minimized. Other typical examples are the assumption of pronouns and the denial of transphobia or homophobia.  

Race/Ethnicity 

People of color often experience many different microaggressions stemming from their race. The insinuation that someone is too pretty to belong to a specific race or indicating that they have a high IQ in relation to where they come from are excellent examples. Sometimes, talking about racial equality and things like "All Lives Matter" can be a form of racial microaggression. 

Education 

Have you worked in an environment where other employees think you are too qualified to handle some tasks due to your education level? If you have, you have experienced the most prevalent, but not only, form of education microaggression. Also, having low expectations based on their level of education counts as education microaggression. 

Position 

Imagine working in an environment where your seniors think you should run errands that are not part of your job description due to your position. They could send you to the grocery store or have you handle other official tasks for no specific reason. Sometimes, a senior employee may suggest that you dress too smartly or drive a much better car than others in your position do. While they may mean this innocently, they are microaggressive due to your position. 

How to Deal With Microaggressions  

Microaggression in the workplace creates a toxic environment where morale, job satisfaction, employee retention, and productivity suffer. Luckily, leaders in the organization can take steps to mitigate this.  

  1. Assess the Situation

You cannot solve a conflict if you do not take the time to understand its basis. Listening to both the aggressor and the victim is the first step in solving workplace conflict. If an employee complains to you about any form of discrimination, regardless of how minor it is, gather as much information about it as possible. Having the facts of the conflict is the first step in formulating a solution. 

  1. Challenge Your Views

Experiencing prejudice is often not black and white. It is complicated and filled with grey areas which are hard to explain to someone who has not been a victim of discrimination before. When faced with such a conflict, review every action or word that can trigger hurt feelings in an employee. It could be about their sexuality, race, religion, education, or disability. Understanding this helps you create clear guidelines on the lines employees should not cross. 

  1. Start a Conversation

This is arguably the most challenging part of solving a conflict, but having a clear line of communication between employees and their seniors can go a long way in tackling the issue of microaggressions at work. Employees who have insecurities about workplace conflicts may not be willing to open up about their experiences.  

To avoid this, you should encourage your employees to speak out when they experience any form of microaggression. Once you have the information, you can talk to the aggressor and explain how their words or actions have affected their coworker. Also, try to mend the broken relationship. 

  1. Learn

Some forms of microaggression result from upbringing, and perpetrators may not realize the pain they cause, while others have no intention of causing pain but are misguided. For instance, it is easy to assume that a person of color was not born or did not grow up in the US. This tries to erase an employee's identity. 

You can never underestimate the effect of organizational microaggressions, so it is best to be proactive in dealing with any manifestations in the workplace to avoid more severe problems. For employees who have been victims of microaggressions, document the occurrence and report to HR about the issues. This is especially true for harassment and discrimination. 


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