Microaggressions are verbal, behavioral, or environmental insults or exclusions that are frequent, seemingly mundane, and may or may not be intentional.
They are based on prejudices and stereotypes acquired over time and are a daily reality for marginalized groups in all aspects of society, including the workplace.
Microaggressions insidiously show up in conversations through inappropriate questions, body language, actions, and decisions.
While these are often small, only hurtful gestures, they contribute to a larger and more persistent culture of exclusion.
The impact of experiencing sustained microaggressions works the same way as learning the stereotypes that perpetuate them: people start to believe them.
Individuals who are victims of microaggressions usually begin to adapt their behavior, appearance, personality, and identity to avoid them.
This prevents them from being authentically themselves, which not only fuels exclusion but harms well-being, mental health and, in the workplace, corporate productivity.
Here are some examples of microaggressions:
- calling a woman “authoritative” where the same behavior from a man would be described as “affirmative”
- making comments such as “I didn’t know you were gay”, suggesting that gay people behave in a certain way
Nonverbal microaggressions frequently manifest themselves through body language: for example, rolling your eyes, keeping quiet, or behaving in a disinterested or dismissive manner.
Microaggressions can also be seen in our decisions and actions. For example, by excluding someone based on a stereotype or preconceived prejudice, or by not having accessible facilities.
Microaggressions are a learned behavior, which fortunately means that we also have the ability to unlearn them.
Pay attention to your language, how you engage in conversations, and your body language.
Consciously consider how you make the other person feel in your interactions and how inclusive you are.
Awareness is the first step; the action is as follows.
Read our inclusive alliance tips to learn how to be more inclusive and better support marginalized groups.