For 64% of women, microaggressions are a workplace reality, and women have to provide more evidence of their competence than men and are also 2x as likely to have been mistaken for someone in a more junior position, according to Lean In’s Women in the workplace report 2018. The report also revealed that 36% of all women have had their judgement questioned in their area of expertise, as opposed to 27% of men. This figure rose to 40% of black women and 37% of lesbian women.
Defined simply in the report as “everyday sexism and racism”, microaggressions are generally more subtle than overt discrimination, meaning they have often gone unnoticed and unreported.
With the rise of social media platforms, employees are much more likely today to report microaggressions on social media platforms for the world to know about it. And with the increasing social protests regarding sexism and racism, more employees are aware of inequalities and more likely to recognize discriminations in the workplace and hold organizations accountable.
As an employer, it is important to proactively address microaggressions in your workplace to avoid legal actions and to create an inclusive workplace where all your employees are engaged and productive. Here are 3 steps that you can take to remove microaggressions and promote inclusion in your organization.
Recognize and emphasize
Often, the perpetrators of microaggressions are well-intentioned people who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated. Organisations need to actually be aware that microaggressions actually exist in their workplace. When microaggressions come from a place of unconscious bias, the first challenge is to recognize them in the first place.
Start by rolling out a training programme for all employees about unconscious bias and microaggressions. Invite your employees to learn about how microaggressions work and what they might look like. Get your leadership team to talk about it often. Some easy and practical ways to educate employees about it include sharing articles and research papers on diversity and inclusion and its benefits on business. To learn how your male leaders can become inclusion champions in your workplace, read 4 powerful ways men can become inclusion champions today.
Consider implementing a visible and well supported employee committee dedicated to promoting an inclusive culture in your workplace and encouraging conversations about race, gender and other types of diversity as well as microaggressions. To learn how to deal with toxic leaders who perpetuate microaggressions at work, watch my video Dealing with Toxic Leaders (3 Ways to Coach Them to Become Inclusive Leaders).
Leaders leading the charge
Executive team members, middle managers and team leaders hold a position of authority, influence and power in your organization. Leverage their power to drive change in your workplace. By making your team leaders, middle managers and senior executives understand that microaggressions don’t belong in your workplace, and by making them your inclusion champions, you will succeed much faster at removing microaggressions in your workplace. Get your leaders to practice behaviour of inclusion, respect, and appreciation every day because they set the tone in their own teams. Ensure that your leaders are very aware of their own statements and actions and that they set an example of accountability.
Ensure that decisions about recruitment and promotion are made by a diverse group of people; you might consider moving to name-blind recruitment processes. Encouraging leaders to speak up when they see misconduct. Invite your leaders to take complaints about discriminatory behaviour seriously. Ensure that your management team included ethnic minority members and female employees who are actively anti-racist and anti-sexist. Consider signing-up to existing industry charters or pledges against racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. Remember to get your leaders to run anonymous employee surveys to find out how their teams really feel about the workplace environment and how inclusive it is. Invite your leaders to hold exit interviews and feedback to obtain information about possible microaggressions, and to take action on the results. To learn how to become an inclusive leader, buy my book: Inclusion, the ultimate secret for an organization’s success.
Confront them with a growth mindset
When you encounter a microaggression, the most productive response is to confront the microaggressor. Using humor can help to diffuse the situation. One common microaggression against women and underrepresented minorities is having people speak over them at work. When people talk over you, you might consider interrupting them back and say “I know you are excited to share your idea, but I wasn’t done with mine.’ If the behaviour becomes pattern, consider approaching a manager privately and explain the situation as they may not have noticed.
It can be difficult not to get defensive if interruption happens over and over. Remember that it doesn’t benefit anyone to come back with anger. Instead, try to understand what happened and use empathy by asking open questions: “Where do you think that was coming from?. Help the microaggressor understand how it made you feel. Remember to approach the confrontation with a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset.” If you focus on what positive outcomes you can bring, your discussion is more likely to have the intended outcome. To test your allyship skills, take this two-minutes test: What type of diversity champion are you?.
Microaggressions are very subtle and hard to notice for many employees. However, you can reduce their occurrence by recognizing them, getting your leaders to lead the charge and confronting them with a growth mindset. With the rapid adoption of social media platforms by employees and the increasing number of protests against discriminations, now is the time for all employers to take action to remove microaggressions to avoid lawsuits and to create an inclusive workplace. Take the first step to create a more inclusive culture today by booking your diversity and inclusion consultation with us here.