What Did You Just Say? 9 Microaggressions That Prevent Inclusion

Don’t Make These Microaggression Mistakes about Inclusion

Microaggressions defined

Microaggressions are statements, actions, or incidents regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial, gender, ethnic, disability, or LGBTQ+ minority.

These are often likened to death by 1,000 cuts.  Individually, they are manageable, but when accumulated over time, they become overwhelming.  The “How Microaggressions are like Mosquito Bites” short video does a great job of explaining how harmful they are in totality, just like mosquito bites.

How to Spot a Microaggression

Because they are so subtle and they happen so often, they are often so hard to detect.  As an ally, you have to put your radar up for them to become more visible.

Be on the watch out for these types of microaggressions:

  1. Interruptions. These are far more likely to happen to women and people of color, 4x more likely in fact.  The reason this is a big deal is because it takes on average 23 minutes to return to your original thinking after being interrupted.  Everyone is losing out on the great ideas and productivity lost from non-inclusive behavior.
  2. There are lots of types of splaining – mansplaining, whitesplaining, straightsplaining, etc.  This is when someone in the majority group (white, straight men most often) explain the experiences of people of color, women or the LGBTQ+ community as if they understand them completely.  It is impossible to fully understand what you have not lived yourself.  Empathizing and paraphrasing others’ stories is very fair, but assuming you know is going to far.
  3. Taking credit for ideas. Again, those most marginalized (women, people of color, etc.) tend to experience this more often than the majority group.  They share an idea and minutes later often someone that looks like a decision maker (white man) shares the very same idea and it now has merit.  Women of color instantly nod their heads in agreement when I speak about this.  It happens that often.
  4. Caregiving assumptions. Women account for 70% of primary caregivers in the US, yet stay at home fathers and inclusive parenting is on the rise.  Do not assume women are not able to travel, do not want to get promoted, or are planning to have children if they have not told you this.  Ask them if you do not know.  We do not make these same assumptions about men as fathers.
  5. Hair touching. Black women will tell you this happens all the time.  It is a violation of personal space, and not appropriate at work or really anywhere.  Even asking is discouraged.  If you are curious about their hair, ask about their hair with appropriate curiosity, asking questions like “How do you decide how to style it?  How do you like to wear your hair?  What is like to have natural hair, braids, etc.?”
  6. Tone policing. Again, women of color are far more likely to experience this.  Being asked to tone down your enthusiasm, attitude, or you are just “too much” is code for be more like a white man.  People need to be able to fully express themselves and bring their full selves to work.  Look at the positives of enthusiasm and welcome it instead of shun it.
  7. Being called “aggressive.” Women and people of color are often reminded to stay in their lane and not speak up or interrupt others, while white people and men can often do this with no issues.  Practice the “Flip it to Test It” and ask if this were a man, would we call it aggressive?
  8. Assumptions about interests. Do not assume because someone is a part of an ethnic, racial, or gender group that they like certain things.  People are individuals.  Chinese people do not all like spring rolls, not all Black people play basketball, and women do not all want to have children.
  9. Misidentifying people of color. We can better identify those in the same racial group as ourselves.  That means that White people better recognize White people and Black people can often better recognize individual Black people.  Same goes for Brown people.  Pay attention to people’s names and make a point to call them out individually rather than associate them with the larger racial or ethnic group, or even worse call them the wrong name.

A day in the life

Austin Channing Brown’s I’m Still Here is a must read for those curious about diversity and anti-racism.  In it, she has an unforgettable passage where she outlines a typical day as a woman of color in Corporate America.  From being misidentified as another Black woman to being discouraged from having lunch with all Black employees, to getting feedback on being too aggressive and having to tone it down, she clearly paints the picture of why it is so hard to stay in non-inclusive organizations.  The cumulative effect of microaggressions is why people of color and women leave often at 2-3x higher rates than the white male majority group.

If you want to boost inclusion, limit microaggressions.  Be on the lookout for them, call them out when you see or hear them, and be an ally to those in the moment when they happen.  If you say nothing, expect the microaggression to happen again.  If you say something, you are setting the expectation that behavior will change next time.

That’s how inclusion happens.  A series of intentional inclusive acts over time.

Curious to learn more? 

Check out my latest interviews with diversity, equity, and inclusion experts on the Next Pivot Point podcast, take our free team diversity and inclusion assessment, and schedule time with Julie to talk live about ideas.