Each year, companies from around the world commit to fostering more inclusive workplaces.
As an employment lawyer, throughout my career, I have heard countless stories from people who have felt like they do not belong in the workplace because they have experienced both macro and microaggressions from their coworkers because of their race, gender, disability, religion, or other legally protected characteristic.
As a black woman who has worked in both the private and public sector, I personally understand that each type of aggression is harmful to both the individual who experiences the aggression and the overall culture of the workplace.
The workplace is a place where everyone should feel respected and included. Each person plays a role in making sure that his/her/their workplaces are safe and inclusive spaces for their coworkers. Microaggressions, unlike macroaggressions, often go unnoticed, but that does not mean that they are unharmful.
Microaggressions erode the culture of the workplace and make persons with identities that have been traditionally marginalized, such as women, people of color, and people who identify as LGBTQ, feel excluded.
Columbia University cross-cultural studies professor, Dr. Derald Wing Sue, defines microaggressions as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group.” Studies have found that being subjected to microaggressions on a daily basis have harmful psychological and physical effects on minorities, including feelings of low self-esteem, increased stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Creating inclusive workplaces requires conscious, intentional, and continued action. Here are five resolutions that you can make to stop microaggressions from occurring in your workplace in 2023.
1. Respect your colleagues’ gender identities.
Respect your colleagues’ gender identities by learning your colleagues’ preferred pronouns, properly using those pronouns, and letting your colleagues know the pronouns that you prefer. You can easily do this by noting your pronouns in your email signature and when you introduce yourself during meetings. For example, “my name is Jessica, and my pronouns are she/her.” If you organize company events, encourage attendees to write their pronouns on their nametags, along with their names. Educate yourself on how to correctly use pronouns, and apologize if you accidentally use the wrong pronoun in conversation.
2. Commit to learning and properly pronouncing the names of your colleagues.
The names of your colleagues and the pronunciation of those names matter. Asking your colleagues to agree to being called by a nickname or a name that is not their given name trivializes their identities. Commit to asking colleagues how to pronounce their names. If you are having trouble with the pronunciation of a colleague’s name, apologize to your colleague and keep trying. This year, resolve to be intentional about learning and respecting the names of your colleagues.
3. Educate yourself about the social and cultural histories of people who identify as LGBTQ, women, and persons of color.
Commit to learning about the lived social and cultural experiences of women, persons of color, and people who identify as LGBTQ. Be curious and attend events held by your company’s employee resource groups that are open to all. Attend celebrations for Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Women’s History Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Pride Month, Disability Pride Month, LGBTQ+ History Month, Native American Heritage Month, Junteenth, and other educational and celebratory events that recognize the unique social and cultural histories of the diverse people with whom you work.
4. Speak up when you notice that a person of color or a woman is being interrupted while speaking.
When you notice that a woman or person of color is being interrupted, let the interrupter know that someone else was speaking, and provide space and time for the original speaker to continue speaking. Commit to saying, “Can Camilla finish her thought?” Research by Carnegie Mellon University Professor Joanna Wolfe indicates that men talk and interrupt more often than women. According to Professor Wolfe, “[t]he research is pretty clear: While both sexes interrupt, men talk and interrupt more often than women. Some of that is because society has accepted that it’s normal and natural that men tend to talk more . . . [a]nd when a woman complains or stands up for herself, she’s more likely to be negatively viewed than her male peers.”
5. When you see microaggressions occurring, speak up to stop them in their tracks.
Microaggressions are constantly taking place around us. Educate yourself about the several ways that microaggressions can pop up in your workplace. Be courageous, and speak up when you see them occurring. Let your colleagues know how they may have engaged in committing a microaggression and why their behavior is harmful. Being an ally requires courageous honesty.