Stop Microaggressions From Taking Root
This indirect form of workplace bias often flies under the radar but causes as much harm as direct discrimination.
Discrimination at the workplace can take many forms, but one of its manifestations which tends to get overlooked is microaggressions.
The term broadly refers to the everyday, subtle interactions or behaviours that communicate some sort of bias towards marginalised groups1. These behaviours are often unintentional or indirect, meaning that they run a high risk of being missed and going unnoticed.
Put simply, microaggressions can be experienced or perceived through seemingly innocuous, day-to-day interactions at the workplace. but they are just as severe as more direct forms of discrimination.
To stamp out such behaviour in your company, it is crucial to identify microaggressions when they happen and nip them in the bud.
How to spot microaggressions at the workplace
Microaggressions are hard to pin down, but there are some common traits.
They often take the form of stereotypes and unfair assumptions about certain groups of people or in the use of derogatory terms to refer to them. In certain instances, the use of non-English language can also be seen as a form of microaggressive behaviour.
Take a supervisor using Mandarin to communicate his or her work instructions to a diverse group of workers for example. Failing to consider that not all employees understand Mandarin can lead to workers feeling excluded and cause greater conflicts over time.
If the workers do not fully understand the instructions, it will hinder them from doing their job properly. As a result, the supervisor may unfairly penalise them for their poor performance.
Another scenario could be a manager who sends only younger employees for training or assigns new projects to them, due to a mindset that older employees take longer time to pick up new skills, or that they are simply “waiting to retire”. These are examples of flawed assumptions that unfairly disadvantage older workers.
Take a stand against discrimination
If microaggressions are left unaddressed, especially by leaders, it may send the signal that such discriminatory behaviours are acceptable.
Before long, harmful stereotypes may become entrenched, inadvertently creating a workplace culture that permits, normalises and, worst of all, perpetuates discrimination.
Despite its name, microaggressions are a big deal and can negatively impact employees and their careers, such as feeling burnout, a lack of confidence in their abilities and less job satisfaction.
This is why employers should take a strong stand against all forms of discrimination at the workplace. To create a fair and inclusive workplace culture and commit to a zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination, here are some important steps to take:
- Be aware of your own prejudices and unconscious biases
- Avoid being defensive and be open to employee feedback
- Intentionally call out behaviour or practices which may come across as disrespectful and discriminatory
- Train employees, especially supervisors and managers, to manage a diverse workforce and ensure that they treat everyone fairly and with respect by familiarising themselves with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices
As role models, leaders must set a personal example and be aware of their own biases before they can begin to take concrete action against other forms of unacceptable behaviour at work.
Being a fair employer will also reap benefits for your business. When employees feel they are valued and treated with respect at the workplace, they are more highly engaged and motivated to give their best in their work.
1 National Public Radio, 2020. Microaggressions are a big deal: How to talk them out and when to walk away. Available at: https://www.npr.org/2020/06/08/872371063/microaggressions-are-a-big-deal-how-to-talk-them-out-and-when-to-walk-away [Accessed November 4, 2022].