There’s been a cultural shift in many companies that’s starting to provoke changes surrounding diversity and inclusion. However, the end to discrimination in the workplace is still a long way in the future.
One of the hardest things that minorities in the workplace have to handle is the issue of microaggressions – largely because many (but not all) of them are simply mistakes by co-workers and bosses who don’t realize that they’re being offensive.
What are microaggressions?
Microaggressions are small slights, offensive actions, indignities and insults directed toward minorities, like people of color, members of the LGBTQA population, older workers and the disabled.
Some examples include:
- Calling a woman “aggressive” or “demanding” for behavior that wouldn’t spark any comments at all coming from a man
- Grabbing a wheelchair bound co-worker’s chair to “help” them without asking if they want or need assistance
- Calling someone by the wrong pronouns or “dead-naming” them, even after being corrected
- Having important company meetings or deadlines that overlap with a major holiday in your religion (while Christmas is a day off)
- Having someone touch your hair because they’re curious about how it feels (when you’re a person of color) or make comments about your natural hair
- Asking you where you or “your people” are from (when the speaker assumes that you aren’t from the United States because of your ethnicity or religion)
In general, unless you believe the other person meant to be offensive or you think a response could put you in physical danger, you should feel free to be assertive and direct. Start with a statement like, “When you say (or do) something like this, it’s hurtful because…”
Hopefully, your co-worker or boss will take a moment to reflect and use this as a learning experience. If the microaggressions continue (or the discrimination becomes blatant), however, you may need to seek legal guidance.