May 20, 2021
Microaggressions are part of the ongoing conversations around increasing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and preventing incidents of discrimination and harassment in the COVID-19 era. As more organizations and businesses open up, training employees and managers on microaggressions in the workplace is one of the proactive ways to reinforce DEI best practices, prevent biases and discrimination, remove barriers to attracting and retaining the best talent, and foster creativity that can improve performance and profitability.
As part of a holistic DEI approach to drive respectful, inclusive behavior and decision making, microaggressions training enables learners to:
- Understand what microaggressions are
Often stemming from unconscious bias, microaggressions are generally described as everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages aimed at individuals of a marginalized group. Whether intentional or not, these seemingly harmless comments or actions have been compared to death by a thousand cuts and can cause health problems, burnout, loss of self-esteem and other effects. Targets of microaggressions often feel judged, misunderstood, excluded, disrespected, vulnerable and unsafe.
- Recognize common types of microaggressions
Racial, gender and identity-based microaggressions are among the most common types. For example, asking an Asian coworker, “Where are you from?” or asking a Black coworker, “Can I touch your hair?” Or male managers asking female managers to take notes or order lunch for a group event or not using a person’s preferred pronoun.
- Be sensitive to the nuances of microaggressions
Microaggressions don’t have to be verbal to hurt the person on the receiving end. Eye rolling, facial expressions, gestures, body language and tone of voice are some examples of microaggressions that communicate hostile, negative or discriminatory messages to individuals based on their race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, abilities or other characteristics. Microaggressions may be unintended — anyone can say or do something hurtful — which underscores the need to raise awareness and encourage all employees to think about how their words and actions can impact individuals who have different cultures, backgrounds and experiences.
- Respond constructively to microaggressions
Training provides constructive ways to respond to and stop microaggressions, whether an individual is a target, a bystander or the initiator. For bystanders, knowing how and when to apply bystander intervention techniques empowers them to address microaggressions, while showing support for those who are targets and helping prevent future incidents. What matters is saying or doing something in safe, constructive ways that express understanding and empathy for marginalized co-workers — without putting the initiator on the defensive.
- Understand managers’ role in preventing microaggressions
Through their own actions, managers can be role models for inclusive behavior in everyday interactions and decisions. Further, as DEI champions, managers should encourage open communication and create a safe, supportive environment in which individuals feel comfortable speaking up when they see or hear microaggressions or other unacceptable behavior.
Whether intentional or not, microaggressions undermine an organization’s DEI strategy to create a healthy, respectful culture of inclusion. Ongoing training and other learning initiatives are proactive ways to communicate the importance of recognizing and preventing daily slights, insults and indignities, and the many benefits of understanding and respecting diverse coworkers.