What are microaggressions? and what can we do with about them in the workplace?


Diversity Equity & Inclusion programs are raising the bar with respect to traditional harassment training programs and policies.  Respectful workplace programs emphasize more than Title VII and policy expectations.  Typically, they include discussions about bystander and upstander tools, biases, and microaggressions.

A microaggression is 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.

A 2015 Vox Media Article stated[1] that microaggressions are more than just insults, insensitive comments, or generalized jerky behavior.  They’re something very specific: the kinds of remarks, questions, or actions that are painful because they have to do with a person’s membership in a group that’s discriminated against or subject to stereotypes. And a key part of what makes them so disconcerting is that they happen casually, frequently, and often without any harm intended, in everyday life.

More and more microaggressions are finding their way into the workplace and employers and employees are faced with dealing with them.  In the workplace there are three types of microaggressions:[2]

  • Behavioral– communicating a message with actions or symbols that display insensitivity to identity stereotypes.  Examples of behavioral microaggressions include:  Asking a woman to take notes at a meeting because that is “women’s work;” Displaying nude pin-ups in a place of employment.
  • Environmental– lack of representation and diversity, including gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.  Examples of environmental microaggressions include:  Scarcity of women or people of color in leadership positions; Hostility during conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
  • Verbal– saying something that may not outright appear to be but is disrespectful or offensive to a marginalized group.  Examples of verbal microaggressions include:  “All lives matter;” “You speak good English;” “You are so articulate;” “Where were you born?” “You’re going to stay home with your kids, right?”  “You should smile more.”

It is important for employers to review policies, DEI programs and training to consider the impact microaggressions can have in the work environment.

If you are being targeted by microaggressions in the workplace consider the following:[3]

  • Seek support from peers, friends, and family.
  • Recognize your own value and potential by not letting anyone else set the standard for who you are as a person.
  • Address the situation head-on by confronting your aggressor in a professional manner.
  • Go to your manager or HR to document the issue and ask for assistance.


[1] https://www.vox.com/2015/2/16/8031073/what-are-microaggressions

[2] https://www.baker.edu/about/get-to-know-us/blog/examples-of-workplace-microaggressions-and-how-to-reduce-them

[3] https://www.baker.edu/about/get-to-know-us/blog/examples-of-workplace-microaggressions-and-how-to-reduce-them