Stop That! Keeping Microaggressions out of the Workplace

By: Erika Moye

I’m in a group chat with a couple of close girlfriends, and recently, they discussed the things they are each concerned about- as women of color and/or women in general, as they are looking to enter graduate school and professional environments. A few things that they were worried about really stuck out to me: Not being taken seriously because of what they look or sound like compared to other applicants, and, exclusivity and microaggressions. Those last two really resonate with me as a women and person of color. Similarly, I have had other conversations with women who feel the same way or have had incidents where coworkers, employers and managers, or even volunteers comment, voice opinions, or make statements based solely on them being a woman that not only offend- but induce an uncomfortable atmosphere for the individual it’s directed to.

So, how do we reduce them in the workplace to ensure that the environment progresses into a comfortable, safe space for everyone?

To start, listening, being open to conversation, and educating oneself on the importance of inclusivity and the effects of unconscious and conscious biases.

Defined by Derald Wing Sue, Ph. D, Columbia University, microaggressions are “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership”. So, pretty much- not allowing women in lead roles where their voices are assertive and authoritative, excluding their input from impacting decisions, or the most common, making comments about their femininity as justification for exclusivity and invalidation of disagreements— “You must be on your period”…are all examples of microaggressions. And they are not always overt advances of prejudice and discrimination—some are in fact constructed by our previously stated unconscious biases where offending is not the intention; however, when told that something is a microaggression created through stereotypes, engaging in dialog is the only way to make sure they never affect anyone’s experience in the workplace.

Women can and do contribute to and lead successful careers and businesses. They should not have to fear prejudgment or discrimination based on their association with a group or have conversations like my friends and I have about concerns in advancing in the professional world. So, let’s fight to stop these biases together with the expulsion of those pesky microaggressions.