Work on the Margin: Microaggressions
by Eleanor Hooks Ph.D.
April 21, 2023

In today’s corporate world, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) are keys to creating a positive work environment that supports employees from all backgrounds. However, despite the progress that has been made in recent years, micro-aggressions in corporations can still have a significant impact on the sense of belonging and inclusion for women and people of color.

What are microaggressions?

Microaggressions are subtle forms of discrimination that are often indirect and unintentional but still have a negative impact on the recipient. They can take many forms, including comments, gestures, or actions that are dismissive, belittling, or discriminatory.

  • Intentional microaggressions include being left out of the communication loop, unexplained changes in job responsibilities, unusual reporting relationships, being paid differently for similar work, dishonest communication, limited access to professional development, and receiving only negative feedback can create anxiety.
  • Corporate politics and traditional practices can raise questions. A lack of transparency from leaders and others can affect a sense of belonging.
  • The impact of these micro-aggressions can be significant, leading to feelings of frustration, exclusion, and disengagement. Over time, this can lead to reduced job satisfaction, lower productivity, and increased employee turnover.

Beliefs Lead to Actions

Microaggressions can come from deeply held beliefs that affect marginalized individuals and groups in the workplace. The beliefs determine actions.

  • Assuming that women or people of color are less knowledgeable or experienced: This can manifest in many ways, such as interrupting or talking over someone in a meeting or assuming that a woman or person of color is in a more junior position than they are.
  • Making comments about someone’s appearance or ethnicity: Comments about hair, clothing, or accent can be hurtful, so a person feels like an outsider.
  • Ignoring or discounting someone’s contributions: This can happen when a woman or person of color is not given credit for their work or ideas, or their input is ignored in decision-making processes and meetings.

Moving Forward

Education and awareness, open communication, and leadership commitment to change can help, but change requires the cultivation of allies and a self-confident mindset.

  • Workshops, training, and company DEI&B initiatives can help to raise awareness.
  • Providing secure channels for feedback can assist in setting standards in the workplace that respects and actively includes differences.
  • Allies at the top of the organization are critical to the success of DEI& B initiatives. If the model is set with leaders, others are more likely to follow.
  • A self-confident, resilient mindset is the survival technique that makes a difference for women and people of color in organizations. In the midst of a challenge, a gift or opportunity can be discovered.

A coach can help women and people of color build mental resilience and manage the impacts of microaggressive behaviors.

© Eleanor Hooks, Ph.D, an Executive Coach specializing in Mental Resilience