Microaggressions: How to Fight Them in Your Workplace

This post is part four of a four-part collaboration between authors Marjie and Bella.

In our previous posts, we reviewed microaggressions in the workplace and why it’s difficult for the recipients of microaggressions to fight them on their own. We also explored how to identify when you are the perpetrator of microaggressions.

In this post, we’re going to explore ways that you can fight microaggressions and improve your workplace.

Believe What You Heard

It’s important to be there for your peers. Do not discredit the experiences shared by those around you, even if you have not had that experience. This is especially true if the experience pertains to microaggressions or more overt claims of discrimination. If your coworker shares their experience, do not play devil’s advocate or try to defend the perpetrator. This will only serve to further gaslight your coworker.

It may also help to find ways to understand the experiences your coworkers are having without making them responsible for teaching you. This might mean Googling, listening to podcasts, or reading books.

Call out microaggressions

It is important to call out and question microaggressions when you hear them. This is even more important if you are someone who is in the majority in your office or in a management or leadership position.

This may be as simple as saying, “Hey, your bias is showing!” or “That’s not true.” If you want a less direct approach, you could instead ask what they mean by their statement or why they might think that way. When pressed to explain their statement, some people will figure out on their own that their statement is untrue or that they were perpetuating a negative stereotype.

When Your Client or Boss is the Aggressor

It can be hard to feel empowered to call out a client or boss when they perpetrate a microaggression. Here are a few things you can do if you don’t feel comfortable calling out a client or manager.

  1. Find a trusted colleague to discuss it with
    If you have experienced or witnessed a microaggression, or any other form of harassment, it can help to discuss it with someone you trust. This can help you sort through the confusion and discomfort that come with these situations. Your trusted colleague may also be willing to support you if you decide to directly confront the person who perpetrated the microaggression.
  2.  Go to a mentor or advisor
    In some workplaces, you may have access to a mentor or advisor. This person can help you figure out the best path forward for your situation. If you are new to a company, your mentor could include a senior staff member on your team or staff dedicated to your onboarding. Describe your concerns to this person and see if they can provide insight into how conflict is resolved at your organization.
  3. Look for a pattern
    In some cases, people are repeat offenders of microaggressions. You may notice they frequently make assumptions about a particular marginalized group or regularly commit microaggressions across the board.
  4. Go to HR
    At the end of the day, microaggressions are a form of discrimination and harassment. You should feel empowered to take concerns about microaggressions to Human Resources or your people-management team. When going to human resources, it is always useful to have details about the occurrence ready or written down in advance. Asking HR to act as a mediator can also be helpful. They can facilitate a session between you and your boss or client, hopefully leading to increased awareness and empathy.

We hope these tips will help you feel empowered to tackle microaggressions in your workplace, and that this series has helped you understand more about microaggressions as a whole.