Throughout the course of this year, we've discussed implicit bias on our internal Social Justice team at Praecipio Consulting. Implicit biases are sub-conscious thoughts or stereotypes we have about a specific group of people based on their race, ethnicity, sexuality, age, appearance, etc. The feelings and thoughts we form based on these biases are ones we may not intentionally form or are aware of, but everyone has them. The team looked further into how these implicit biases affect the workplace and discovered they correlate directly to microaggressions. As we begin a new year, the Praecipio Consulting team is looking for ways to better our company culture, as well as ourselves personally, so addressing microaggressions and their effects on the workplace seemed like a great way to do this as a group, as well as individuals.
What are microaggressions?
According to Derald Wing Sue, microaggressions are the everyday slights, indignities, put-downs, and insults that members of marginalized groups experience in their day-to-day interactions with individuals who are often unaware that they have engaged in an offensive or demeaning way. The perpetrator of the aggression typically does not realize what they said or did toward the victim is offensive, which makes microaggressions even harder to call out or recognize. There are three types of microaggressions: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations.
Three types of microaggressions
First, we have microsassaults. Microassaults are more obvious and are usually purposeful. They are often violent and directly target a victim. In the workplace, an example would be if a male coworker gropes a female coworker and plays it off as a joke.
Next are microinsults. Microinsults are the most common type of microaggressions. They are a bit more subtle and unconscious, especially compared to microassaults. They disrespect or demean another person, even if the perpetrator "meant it as a compliment." In the workplace, an example would be if a non-white co-worker was giving a presentation and an employee commented on how articulate the presenter is.
Microinvalidations are very similar to gaslighting another person. They are often subtle and unconscious. Microinvalidations cancel the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of marginalized individuals. In the workplace, an example is when an LGBTQ+ employee confides in a straight employee about a microaggression they received, and the straight employee tells them they're overreacting.
Microaggressions and the workplace
Although at the moment, a microaggression may feel like a joke or a harmless action to the person committing them, they have a large impact on the receiver, especially if the microaggressions occur repeatedly over a long period of time. Psychologists often compare them to death by a thousand cuts. Because of the manner of microaggressions, they are often not reported by employees. It’s important to understand what they are and how they affect others to ensure a safe and inclusive company culture. The first step in addressing microaggressions is to recognize when a microaggression has occurred and what message it may be sending. Think about your actions and your words: you may have positive intentions with your behaviors, but think about the impact they have on others.
At Praecipio Consulting, the Social Justice team has compiled a Resource Library that the company can use to learn about a range of topics, a few geared toward microaggressions and how we can work to eliminate them from our environments. Below is a list of helpful resources around microaggressions that we have in our library.
- Podcast: NPR Life Kit: Microaggressions Are A Big Deal: How To Talk Them Out And When To Walk Away
- Forbes article: 7 Common Examples of Microaggressions - Dana Brownlee
- Book: “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo
- TEDXTalk: Eliminating Microaggressions: The Next Level of Inclusion - Tiffany Alvoid
- Project Implicit: Implicit Association Test
If you have read, watched, or listened to any of these resources, we'd love to hear your thoughts, and if you have any recommendations for other resources we should add to our library to learn more about microaggressions, let us know!