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What are Workplace Micro Aggressions?



Our partner, BlessingWhite, recently discussed the concept of workplace Micro Aggressions in an excellent article – “LadyDay is Everyday”. This, in brief, recounted a recent incident that occurred during a Google shareholders call, where a shareholder posed a question to Google CFO, Ruth Porat, addressing her as “The Lady CFO”. In choosing to incorporate gender into her job title, the questioner sparked a rapidly-escalated response on social media, and within Google itself, which aimed to demonstrate the irrelevance of gender to the role, as well as the presence of a micro aggression in making the comment in the first place.


Micro Aggressions?


Micro aggressions as a term was first used in the 1970s, and is generally understood to mean everyday verbal and non-verbal insults or slights which might be made intentionally or unintentionally, and contain a negative connotation. Usually, this negativity relates to a stereotype or bias. As BlessingWhite’s article explains, these actions “impact others by making them feel like they don’t belong or are different in a negative or non-inclusive way”.


In the workplace, part of the risk present by these micro aggressions is the cumulative impact they can have on both an individual and the wider office culture. At an individual level, even unintentional incidents can slowly compound over time into high levels of employee disengagement, while at the organisational level, it can appear to institutionalise and normalise particular attitudes and opinions within an office.


All of which, of course, makes it particularly crucial that organisations and their employees take steps to handle the presence of micro aggressions, minimising or entirely eradicating their presence. Obviously this can be a challenge –their “micro” nature, their often unintentional delivery, and the fact that what is judged a micro aggression will differ from person to person, all contribute to a particularly complicated issue. Organisations should not, however, let this difficulty put them off – not least because, as the reaction to the Google incident shows, the issue can be strongly felt by employees and negatively viewed by many external stakeholders. 
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