Every employer and employee should know that overt discrimination in the workplace is illegal and wrong. However, not all discriminatory behaviors are obvious or even intentional.
One example of this is microaggression, which can happen every day and may go unnoticed by many. But for targets of these everyday slights, including women, the impact can be harmful and violate their rights.
What does microaggression look like?
Microaggression can take many forms. Generally, however, these acts and statements include statements or actions that undermine or make assumptions about a group. In the context of microaggressions against women, it might look like:
- Interrupting or talking over female workers during a presentation
- Making jokes about stereotypical roles of women as wives
- Assuming a female colleague wants to be a mother
- Telling a woman to smile more or be “ladylike”
- Feeling the need to explain something to a woman who already understands it
- Commenting on a woman’s appearance, even if it seems positive
These statements, policies and behaviors can undermine women and make them feel inadequate and defensive.
The toll these take on women
Isolated or infrequent instances of microaggressions may give rise to complaints or consequences. However, over time, they add up. And when employers fail to address persistent and ongoing problematic situations, assumptions or people, women can suffer – particularly LGBTQ women and women of color.
Microaggressions can make every day stressful, frustrating and uncomfortable. The performance of these targeted employees can decline, their morale can suffer, and they might experience conditions like depression and anxiety. It takes a very real professional and personal toll.
What to do about microaggressions
There are some ways parties can combat these harmful behaviors. One solution can be microvalidations, which are subtle but significant ways of encouraging and supporting female employees. Highlighting contributions, using a person’s preferred name or pronouns, and simply paying attention when someone is speaking are all ways to create a positive environment.
However, if microaggressions persist and continue to impact workers, they may choose to take aggressive action by filing discrimination or harassment complaints and pursuing a lawsuit.
Providing a fair and inclusive workplace doesn’t just involve major policies and laws; it also requires individuals to make small, purposeful decisions every day.