Sandra Bledsoe

Microaggression Training: What You Need to Know

Microaggression refers to any comment, action, or incident resulting from unintentional prejudice against a marginalized group. The group here could mean a race, a gender, or an ethnic minority. 

Microaggressions are subtle and often result from implicit bias. Implicit bias can be unintentional, but it is as harmful as explicit bias. Implicit bias and resulting microaggressions reveal the deeply embedded form of domination and prejudices in a person. Years of oppression give rise to implicit bias in a person, and it takes time to unlearn problematic behaviors.

Chester Pierce, the Harvard-trained psychiatrist, coined the term microaggression. Pierce believed that microaggression was an outcome of black/white interaction, where the white people would often put down the black, almost perfunctorily. 

A study shows that 26% of Americans have experienced microaggressions at work, and 22% are unsure. 36% have been a bystander to microaggressions and 24% unsure of being witnesses. With a meager 40% of American workers stating that they have never seen microaggressions, the numbers reveal a deep disparity in the population. 

Microaggression roots from racism. Even though most people are not openly racists, they express it indirectly in some way or the other. Though most microaggressions result from racial bias, there are also other forms of marginalization in the workplace. 

Microaggression in the Workplace

Microaggression in the workplace may result in severe consequences. Most employees are subjected to unprofessional behavior or commentary or have seen someone else get credited for their ideas. The incidents seem innocuous enough until the underlying bias is brought to light.

Microaggression in the workplace has an ‘othering’ effect. It makes the marginalized group the ‘other’ and relies on biased assumptions. This could include any comment about a person based on their identities, such as race, culture, gender, and sexual orientation. For instance, a woman as a superior is often called ‘bossy’, or someone might comment on the features of a different race of people.

Types of Microaggressions at the Workplace

Microaggression in the workplace can be narrowed down into the following types:

  • Micro insults: This refers to any seemingly offhand comment or gesture with biased undertones. Most micro insults often come from a place of goodwill, like compliments, or they have subtle meanings. These can be difficult to pinpoint as micro insults are covert.
  • Micro assaults: Micro assaults are intentional, unlike micro insults. It is a deliberate, hostile action to make the target feel uncomfortable, invalidated, and unwelcome.
  • Environmental microaggressions: This includes anything in a person’s environment or surroundings, giving them a sense of invalidation. It could mean inadequate representation of the minority, for instance, a company failing to be sensitive to the culture of a marginalized group.
  • Microinvalidations: Microinvalidations seek to invalidate the identity and experiences of the marginalized. It negates or invalidates the experiences of discrimination faced by the marginalized at the office.

In the absence of microaggression training, such incidents often go unreported. Microaggression is difficult to report as most of it is subtle and can be unintentional.

Examples of Common Microaggression in the Workplace 

Microaggressions can be both verbal and non-verbal and can include gestures, comments, statements, and assumptions, among others. Some common examples of microaggressions are:

  • Implying that a person does not hold race or color against another by saying, “When I see you, I don’t see color.”
  • Any gestures or offhand comments invalidate the marginalized. For instance, stating that the organization does not tolerate discrimination. Instead, one could ask about the experience of the person at the company.
  • Sounding defensive by exclaiming, “I didn’t mean to sound racist.” Unfortunately, this defense suggests that the person did sound racist. Instead, one could try understanding why they sounded racist and unlearn their behavior.
  • Signaling that a different culture might be unprofessional at the workplace. A common experience is suggesting that Black hairstyles are unprofessional in the workplace.
  • Questioning someone’s position in the company, especially if they are superior. This might be an unintentional expression of surprise and can be rude.

How to deal with Microaggression in the Workplace?

Responding to microaggressions at the workplace can be daunting. By not handling such acts, the victim often experiences guilt or disappointment in oneself. However, it is not easy to respond to microaggressions at the workplace. 

 

There are three ways in which a survivor can respond to microaggressions. 

  1. Initially, there can be a passive-aggressive reaction to the perpetrator. 
  2. Secondly, the survivor might react proactively, by yelling emotionally.
  3. Lastly, the survivor may choose to react assertively by taking immediate action.

Not every perpetrator understands or apologizes for their actions. However, responding to microaggressions at the workplace depends on the victims. They can assess the situation and react accordingly. 

What is Microaggression Training?

Microaggression might look like a slight issue, but the question here is – why should you have to ignore microaggressions? If people are granted equality of rights, then no one must be subject to microaggressions. 

The simpler way to counter microaggressions is through microaggression training. Microaggression training in the workplace helps to create a safer work environment for diverse employees. It helps individuals become more informed and aware of their behavior and thought patterns. Moreover, it helps individuals unlearn toxic behavior.

Is Microaggression Training Necessary?

Not addressing microaggression is ethically wrong for the company and leaves a deep impact on the workforce. In this case, the training helps everyone introspect their past behavior and rectify them. It is indispensable and should not be a one-off event at the company. 

Expert counselors and psychologists handle microaggression training. The program trains employees to be more empathetic and sensitive to cultural differences. Moreover, it also educates people on bystander intervention. Bystander intervention calls on the collective responsibility of employees. It reduces incidents of microaggressions through detailed training.

Microaggression can damage the company’s reputation. It can also deplete the firm’s human resources as most survivors want to quit the job after experiencing microaggressions. The only recourse for organizations is long-term microaggression training.

Objectives of Microaggression Training

Microaggression training seeks to do the following in the workplace:

  • Define microaggression and types of microaggression in the workplace.
  • Understand terms like implicit and explicit bias, stereotypes, microaggression, privilege, and inclusion. 
  • Understand patterns of microaggression in the work environment.
  • Educate employees on microaggressions and their consequences.
  • Participants learn to identify verbal and nonverbal microaggression in the workplace through suitable examples and anecdotes.
  • Encourage participants to introspect their past and present behavior and identify microaggression.
  • Prepares participants to respond to acts of microaggression.
  • Increased sensitivity towards culture, race, ethnicity, traditions, and identity of the marginalized.
  • Encourages bystander intervention in the workplace to minimize microaggression.
  • Acceptance of privilege among the non-marginalized.

As a species that thrives in diversity, one cannot dismiss microaggression. By including a course on microaggression training, a company dismantles decades-old biases. It promotes inclusivity in a company and counters any hostile work environment. Microaggression training also leads to higher employee satisfaction which leads to better productivity. Microaggression training spreads awareness of implicit bias. It creates an inclusive work environment for everyone and the only way a workplace can be equal.


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