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What are Microaggressions in the Workplace?

Everyone has a role to play in contributing to a respectful and civil workplace. Unbeknownst to us, our subtle and unintentional assumptions and biases can lead to what is referred to as microaggressions. It is our responsibility to understand what microaggressions are, in order to help improve our interactions with our workplace connections.

Microaggressions are usually indirect and unintentional, subtle verbal or nonverbal insults or judgmental comments communicated towards a person, often by someone who may be well-intentioned but unaware of the impact of their words or actions.

Microaggressions are Defined as:

“A statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.”


Microaggressions Include:

  • Subtle verbal or nonverbal insults communicated towards a person
  • May be well-intentioned but unaware of impact of words or actions
  • Often comes from people who experience themselves as good, moral, decent, tolerant individuals
  • Occurs outside our conscious awareness


Can be based on any aspect of a person’s identity:

  • Sexuality
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Gender


Examples of Microaggressions:

  • Telling a racist or sexist joke and then saying you were just kidding.
  • Giving a co-worker a nickname that is easier to pronounce.
  • Continuing to use the wrong pronoun for a transgender co-worker.
  • Making comment on someone’s perceived mood.


Microagressive Statements:

  • I’m surprised you speak English so well!
  • No, where are you really from?
  • I’m not even going to try to pronounce your name.
  • You aren’t like the other ones.
  • When are you going to have children?
  • At least you don’t look old.


Effects of Microaggressions May Include:

  • Feelings of anger or hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem and confidence
  • Poor self-image
  • Detrimental impact on mental health: stress, anxiety, depression


Unconscious biases and microaggressions may not significantly affect every single interaction or decision, but their cumulative effects over time can cause unintended harm to others and lead to complaints of harassment and discrimination.

Microaggressions can be changed by examining personal beliefs, values, attitudes, and perceptions.

In closing, remember that we all carry certain biases and as a result may demonstrate microaggressions that we are unaware of. We each have a responsibility to disrupt these behaviours and work towards supporting and treating each other with respect, civility and fairness. In doing so, this will pave the way for a shift in culture to one where employees feel accepted, valued and celebrated in their diversity.

HR Proactive Inc.  provides Unconscious Bias & Microaggressions Training 


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