Organizations can and should prevent and dismantle microaggressions, helping to build a foundation of trust and inclusivity that makes teams more productive while increasing retention.
You’ve probably seen it or experienced it: Nonverbal slights, insults or demeaning behaviors that target individuals from traditionally marginalized groups. And maybe it struck a chord and made you feel uncomfortable in a way you couldn’t fully comprehend in the moment. These exchanges are not unusual, and it’s only now that we are taking notice and understanding they are toxic and damaging over time. And they have a name—microaggressions.
While many of us can easily identify overt forms of discrimination in the workplace, microaggressions are often far more subtle and go unnoticed and unreported. As referenced in a Harvard Business Review article, studies indicate these actions, which are a type of bias, are “at least as harmful” as more overt forms of racism. To address these behaviors in the workplace culture, we need to understand them in greater depth.
What the research shows
Microaggressions may fly under the radar for those of us who don’t directly experience them, but they are a clear form of exclusion and discrimination—and they are more widespread than you may think. According to a study by Survey Monkey, “More than a quarter of Americans (26 percent) have definitely experienced a microaggression at work and another 22 percent are unsure. Thirty-six percent have witnessed one (with another 24 percent unsure).”