Microaggressions: What they are, and how to rid your workplace of them


There’s likely behavior happening within your team that might not be glaringly negative when viewed individually but that add up to a whole heap of toxicity. You’ll know they’re present when you hear phrases such as ‘It’s just a joke’ and ‘I’m going to call you _ because I can’t pronounce your name.’ These types of comments are called microaggressions, the commonplace behavior that illustrates bias towards a marginalized group, and while often dismissed as diminutive, they’re actually causing significant harm.


Examples of microaggressions found at the workplace


Microaggressions are often categorized into three groups: verbal, behavioral, and environmental.

A verbal microaggressions is saying something offensive to a person such as complimenting an non-white individual’s English because you assume they were not born and/or raised in an English-speaking country, or saying ‘You’re so smart!’ to person of color (suggesting such a thing is surprising).

An example of behavioral microaggression would be assuming a non-white person works in the service industry or telling a woman to smile more. It is dismissive actions that aligns itself with a stereotype.

Environmental microaggressions are probably the most talked-about right now. They primarily refer to the exclusion of a marginalized group. Examples are abundant: all-white or nearly all-white company boards, disproportionately hiring younger workers, or workplaces that are not accessible.


How to address microaggressions


The difficulty in tackling microaggressions is that, as stated previously, they are often thought of as harmless. Employers have to start by looking at their own behaviors through an honest lens and a commitment to make changes then they’ll be able to lead their team to do the same. Here’s some tips for both:

  1. Outsource to a professional who can objectively examine the company’s culture
  2. Request anonymous feedback from staff on the microaggressions they feel are present in the workplace
  3. Take down your defensive shield when microaggressions are revealed
  4. Implement trainings on avoiding microaggressions and how to address when they occur
  5. Make policy changes that reflect this initiative


Again, microaggressions are notoriously difficult to dismantle given the flippant reception that often occurs when they’re committed but the phrase ‘just a joke’ has no place in today’s office. All workers deserve respectful treatment and opportunity, and it’s the employers most important role to ensure this is the case. An environment that’s a safe place for employees is one with real lasting power.

Want to make sure you have the right support to begin? Eos HR is that team. We make sure small business employers have the resources they need to lead a healthy, innovative workplace. Schedule a free consultation today to learn more.

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