In today’s society, it’s not uncommon to hear the term “microaggressions” being used in conversations about discrimination and harassment. But what exactly are microaggressions and how do they differ from other forms of discrimination or harassment?
What are microaggressions?
Microaggressions are defined as subtle, everyday verbal and nonverbal slights, snubs, or insults that communicate derogatory messages to individuals based on their marginalised identity. These can include comments or actions that stereotype, belittle, or marginalise a person based on any protected characteristics.
As a HR manager or EDI lead you maybe aware that microaggressions originally stem from racism. Which is why it’s important to ensure your employees have had appropriate Race Awareness Training. There’s our HR guide to help you engage employees around the topic of race and racism.
Microaggressions or Ignorance?
It’s important to note that microaggressions are not the same as unconscious bias or ignorance. Unlike unconscious bias, which can be unintentional, microaggressions are often intentional and deliberate. They are not the result of a lack of knowledge or understanding, but rather a manifestation of an individual’s biases and prejudices. Additionally, microaggressions are not isolated incidents, but rather a pattern of behaviour that can have a significant impact on the mental health and well-being of marginalised individuals.
By understanding that microaggressions are intentional, deliberate actions that communicate derogatory messages to marginalised individuals, and can create a hostile or uncomfortable work environment. It’s important for employers and managers to recognize the impact that microaggressions can have on their employees, and to take steps to address them. By working with companies like Mission Diverse to educate, inform and support employees, managers and leaders, employers can create a more inclusive and equitable workplace.
Microaggressions, Harassment and The Equality Act 2010
It’s important to note microaggressions can take place anywhere in the world, and legislation may vary depending on your location. In the UK, microaggressions are not only a form of discrimination, but also harassment. The Equality Act 2010 includes harassment as unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
Microaggressions can fall under this definition, as they can create a hostile or uncomfortable work environment for marginalised individuals. It’s important organisations have regular diversity and inclusion consulting support, such as Mission Diverse, to ensure you are appropriately addressing microaggressions, discrimination and harassment.
If an employer is found to be ignoring microaggressions and not taking steps to address them, they may be found liable for discrimination and harassment. It’s also why we at Mission Diverse work with organisations to ensure they have policies and procedures in place to mitigate and take appropriate action against micro-aggressive behaviours in the workplace.
One of the most common misconceptions about microaggressions is that they are simply people being oversensitive. This idea suggests that marginalised individuals are being overly sensitive or taking things too personally when they experience microaggressions. However, this could not be further from the truth.
Microaggressions are not isolated incidents, but rather a pattern of behaviour that can have a significant impact on the mental health and well-being of marginalised individuals. They can create a hostile or uncomfortable work environment, and can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression. Furthermore, microaggressions can also affect an individual’s performance, motivation, and job satisfaction, which can lead to a decrease in productivity and an increase in staff turnover.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that marginalised individuals are often subject to multiple forms of discrimination and oppression. For example, a Black woman may experience not only racism but also sexism, and a gay man may experience not only homophobia but also transphobia. Microaggressions can compound the effects of these experiences, making it even more challenging for marginalised individuals to navigate the workplace.
It’s important for HR departments, EDI managers and employers to recognize the impact that microaggressions can have on their employees, and to take steps to address them. By treating microaggressions with the seriousness they deserve, we can create a more inclusive and equitable workplace.
Microaggressions & Power dynamics
Another important point to consider is that marginalised individuals are often subject to microaggressions from people in positions of power, such as managers or supervisors. This can make it difficult for individuals to speak out or report the behaviour, as they may fear retaliation or negative consequences for their careers. This is why at Mission Diverse we work with all staff levels within your organisation to raise awareness, educate, inform, and support them when dealing with microaggressions at the all-staff, managerial, and leadership/ c-suit level.
It’s also important to remember that marginalised individuals have the right to be treated with respect and dignity, and that microaggressions are a violation of that right. Ignoring or dismissing microaggressions as “people being oversensitive” only perpetuates the problem and perpetuates the discrimination and harassment of marginalised individuals.
It’s important to note that microaggressions can happen in any workplace and can have a negative impact on employees from all backgrounds. However, certain organisations have gained notoriety for their high incidence of microaggressions and the negative impact it has had on their employees. Here are some examples of organisations in the UK that have been known for workplace microaggressions:
1. The NHS: In 2019, a report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) found that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff in the NHS faced “daily microaggressions” in the workplace. The report found that employees of colour were more likely to be subject to bullying and harassment, and that they faced discrimination in the promotion process. The report also found that BAME staff were more likely to experience mental health problems as a result of their experiences at work.
2. The Financial Services Industry: In 2019, a report by the Ethnicity Alliance found that BAME staff in the financial services industry faced “systemic barriers” to progression and were more likely to experience microaggressions in the workplace. The report found that BAME staff were disproportionately represented in lower-paying roles, and that they faced discrimination in the promotion process. The report also found that BAME staff were more likely to experience mental health problems as a result of their experiences at work.
3. The Metropolitan Police: In 2020, an investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that the Metropolitan Police had a “culture of discrimination” against employees of colour. The investigation found that employees of colour were disproportionately subject to disciplinary action and that they faced discrimination in the promotion process. The investigation also found that employees of colour were more likely to be subject to bullying and harassment in the workplace. This had a significant impact on the mental health and well-being of employees of colour, as well as affecting their job satisfaction and motivation.
These are just a few examples that demonstrate the negative impact that microaggressions can have on employees and the importance of addressing them in the workplace.
If you’re reading this as a HR manager, EDI lead, company owner or c-suite executive. It’s important to know that you have a responsibility to create a safe and inclusive work environment and to take steps to address and mitigate microaggressions when they occur.
Supporting and raising awareness of microaggressions amongst your employees
It’s important for employers and managers to recognize the impact that microaggressions can have on their employees, and to take steps to address them. One such company that can help employers, HR managers and boards create a more inclusive workplace is Mission Diverse.
Mission Diverse offer microaggression training and monthly consulting that helps employees, managers and c-suite executives identify and understand microaggressions. As well as developing strategies on how to address them. Our training also helps to create a more inclusive work environment by promoting diversity and equity, and by fostering a culture of zero tolerance for microaggressions.