Why is it so important for today’s organizations to understand microaggressions? According to HR expert Sarah Morgan, only once these microaggressions are mitigated will we be able to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace culture.
In an enlightening conversation with Workhuman® CHRO Steve Pemberton as a part of our Keeping Work Human series, Sarah says she feels like “there is an opportunity for HR to shine” in a new way during this historic period.
As CEO of BuzzARooney LLC, a leadership management and HR consulting boutique, Sarah works with companies “to establish inclusive and equitable workplace cultures,” with the goal of creating a more human workplace. During a time when “we’re dealing with two pandemics,” as Steve puts it, “one that’s historic in racism, and another that is COVID-19,” we need to acknowledge systemic inequalities in the workplace and commit to changing them. Now that organizations are finally starting to have these difficult conversations about race, gender, sexuality, etc., it’s time to act.
Microaggressions – the work starts small
Microaggressions are instances of implicit, unintentional, or subtle discrimination against a member of a marginalized group. Because, as Sarah explains, microaggressions are often “the foundation of what becomes bullying and harassment and discrimination,” leaders should work to mitigate these early on. Steve contends that these small, sometimes unnoticeable actions are like a “beanstalk.” He continues, “if you dealt with it when it was a seed, it would not become this entanglement.” Organizations must work to untangle microaggressions in the workplace before they grow into something larger and more disruptive.
Microaggressions are just that – micro. Sarah recognizes that these are subtle and sometimes unconscious, which can make them tricky to deal with in the workplace. Leaders must be proactive when addressing microaggressions to promote an equal and inclusive space for everyone.
Sarah categorizes these small acts of intolerance into three “flavors.” They are:
- Micro-assaults: slurs and displays of symbols with problematic history
- Micro-insults: assumptions made based on stereotypes
- Micro-invalidations: when the concerns of those who are oppressed are discredited
These small hostilities plant themselves deeply within individuals and organizations and will continue negatively impacting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and women until they are managed.
“Boo-ed up with your bias”
The first step in eradicating workplace discrimination, Sarah argues, “is getting comfortable admitting that we all have bias.” Once we can admit we all have biases, we can start to change them. Sarah recommends “to be curious and explore it, challenge yourself, and challenge it.”
Although we must all wrestle with our own biases, organizations are responsible for setting the tone for D&I. Over the course of Steve’s career, he has watched and learned from microaggressions in the workplace. He has seen “offenders looking for something from the culture or leader in that moment,” and if a company does not have strong D&I practices in place, it is likely the offender will view that as permission to act inappropriately.
Organizations should create an inclusive environment where employees feel comfortable addressing discrimination. Sarah expresses the importance of leaders and bystanders speaking up. It is critical for companies to “encourage bystander intervention” so everyone feels safe bringing their whole, unapologetic self to work.
A new kind of community
As organizations work to create an inclusive community within their own walls, they should also be thinking about the community around them. In answering Steve’s question about HR’s role in building a broader sense of community, Sarah urges businesses to assess the local organizations they’re working with in order to be a constructive community member.
Even further than that, she asks, “how can you support Black vendors and businesses that are headed by marginalized individuals?” Organizations should also consider creating internships and scholarship programs for young people in underrepresented communities to create equal opportunities for all, regardless of race, gender, income level, or sexuality.
Business leaders like Steve and Sarah are at the forefront of the fight for equality in the workplace. Pursuing such an important fight can sometimes be disheartening, so it’s essential to remain positive. When asked about how she is staying hopeful in these uncertain times, Sarah says she is inspired by those around her. She sees “so much opportunity for growth, evolution, and improvement,” and is excited that “other people are seeing it too.”
When positivity is hard to come by, Sarah looks to her children for inspiration. “Their energy and desire to go out into the world and make a difference,” she says, “that keeps me hopeful.” It is up to all of us to keep that hope alive so that one day we wake up in a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable world.
About the AuthorMore Content by Sarah Bloznalis