Microaggression in the Workplace: Understanding the Subtle Forms of Bias

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Microaggression in the Workplace: Understanding the Subtle Forms of Bias

While clear forms of discrimination are easy to spot and address, there’s a more hidden form of bias called microaggressions. These small actions or comments, even if unintentional, can affect someone’s sense of belonging and well-being. So what is microaggression and how do you manage it?

What is Microaggression?

Harvard Business Review defines microaggression as “Subtle, often unintentional, behaviors or comments that convey negative or derogatory messages to individuals based on their membership in a marginalized group.” These can show up in three different ways: verbal, non-verbal and environmental:

The Importance of Addressing Microaggressions

The subtlety of microaggressions, often referred to as Subtle Acts of Exclusion (SAE), belie their profound impact. These behaviors, neither “micro” nor “aggressive” in nature, are subtle yet can have significant effects on individuals, especially when accumulated over time. Employees subjected to these SAE on a regular basis may begin to feel alienated or stressed. This emotional toll not only affects their mental well-being but can also dampen their enthusiasm and commitment to their roles. In addition, they may hesitate to embrace new tasks or leadership opportunities, feeling their contributions are undervalued.

Recent studies shed light on the tangible impacts of microaggressions on employees. According to a report by McKinsey, employees who frequently experience microaggressions are three times more likely to regularly contemplate leaving their jobs than those who don’t. Additionally, Deloitte’s 2019 State of Inclusion survey revealed that 64% of respondents experienced bias in their workplace within the last year, with a significant portion attributing it to subtle and covert biases, often in the form of microaggressions or subtle acts of exclusion.

Furthermore, when these subtle behaviors become a recurring theme within a team, they can fracture the very foundation of collaboration. Trust can erode, leading to diminished teamwork and synergy. This disruption can decelerate projects and compromise work quality.

Strategies to Identify and Counter Microaggression

To cultivate a truly inclusive environment, it’s imperative to be proactive. Here are some detailed strategies:

  1. Employee Feedback: Gain insights into the types and frequency of microaggressions employees face.
    1. Initiate Regular Open Forums: Organize monthly or quarterly sessions where employees can openly discuss their experiences. These sessions should be led by HR or an unbiased third party to ensure neutrality.
    2. Anonymous Feedback Forms: Distribute forms where employees can share incidents of microaggressions without fear of repercussions. Ensure anonymity to encourage honest feedback. Regularly analyze this feedback to identify patterns and areas of concern.
  2. Focus Groups: Understand common patterns of microaggressions and brainstorm solutions.
    • Group Formation: Create diverse groups of employees from different departments, roles, and backgrounds.
    • Facilitated Discussions: Engage a trained facilitator to lead the discussion, ensuring it remains productive and respectful.
    • Actionable Insights: After each session, compile the insights and suggestions to form the basis of training or policy changes.
  3. Training and Workshops: Educate employees about microaggressions and equip managers with tools to handle and prevent them.
    • Tailored Training Modules: Design training sessions that address the specific issues highlighted in feedback and focus group sessions.
    • Role-playing Scenarios: Use real-life examples and scenarios to help employees recognize and counteract microaggressions.
    • Managerial Training: Offer specialized training for managers, focusing on recognizing, addressing, and preventing microaggressions within their teams.
  4. Review Organization Policies: Ensure policies promote fairness and do not inadvertently support or overlook microaggressions.
    • Policy Audit: Regularly review existing policies with a diverse committee to identify potential areas of concern.
    • Incorporate Employee Feedback: Use insights from feedback sessions and focus groups to update and refine policies.
    • Regular Updates: Ensure that policies are revisited and updated at least annually to remain relevant and effective.

By implementing these detailed strategies, organizations can take concrete steps towards identifying, addressing, and preventing microaggressions and subtle acts of exclusion.

In the modern workplace, it’s important for organizations to make sure everyone feels valued and respected. Addressing microaggression is a key part of this. By understanding and working against microaggression, organizations can create a positive work environment where all employees can do their best. How is your organization handling microaggression? Share your experiences, insights, or questions about People Analytics.

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