Women at Work: The Top Five Micro-Aggressions Preventing Gender Equality

Women at work run into barriers called micro-agressions.  There are subtle, yet powerful signals that they do not belong. Learn how to curb them and overcome them as women leaders.

Since writing ONE:  How Male Allies Support Women for Gender Equality and Pivot Point:  How to Build a Winning Career Game Plan, I have been enlightened to learn that our allies come in all forms – they could be women, men, people of color, or people with different backgrounds and experiences.  And, we need them now more than ever.  With a growing number of men wanting to disengage with women at work and not be allies, it is time to clear the air.

Anyone can be an ally.  The first step to being an ally is listening to learn to gain awareness.

Let’s start the dialogue with what is really holding women back at work.  Still, in 2019, there are very few gender diverse teams and very few women leading organizations, and there is evidence the numbers are sliding backwards.

My guess?  The everyday chinks in the armor, the death by 1,000 cuts that happen to women every day in the workplace.

These are called micro-aggressions.  They seem small, yet over time, wear and tear on minority groups such as women.  When it comes to gender bias in the workplace, I see these micro-aggressions surfacing most often.  These every day experiences add up to a hurtful cumulative effect.

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They signal a lack of belonging.

Micro-aggression #1:  Feedback is focused on personality vs. performance.

We judge women on performance and men on potential.  This means that we need to see women prove themselves over and over again when men are given the confidence to do a task they have never done before.  Despite being labeled as high potential, women are often told to wait their turn on the next promotion and are given feedback that they are “too emotional.”  Women are far more likely to get feedback on personality traits like being “too nice” or “too aggressive.”  There is little room to navigate the gender tight rope in the middle of the gender spectrum.  Being masculine enough to be taken seriously, while empathizing with others to show you care.  It is like an impossible balance beam to walk day after day.

Micro-aggression #2:  Women are often “only” woman in many meetings.  Being the only person that looks like you and thinks like you is exhausting.  Most decisions were made by Caucasian men.  These decisions are not balanced with other perspectives and are at risk of group think lacking innovative thought.  When meeting rooms have people that all look the same, think the same, and have the same experiences, decisions are not as good.  This leads to a feeling of not belonging.

Micro-Aggression #3:  Women are tasked for office housekeeping tasks.  Women are often default social event or committee organizers and note takers in meetings.  This is harmful because this work is less likely to be rewarded or valued on performance reviews or in pay increases.  When women take on more responsibility in addition to the regular work, it limits their capacity and visibility to other opportunities.

Micro-Aggression #4:  Women are encouraged not to meet with men one-on-one.  Due to fear of sexual harassment accusations and fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, men have retreated from one-on-one interactions with women.  They are not sure what to say or do, so it feels easier to withdrawal completely.  This is not helpful given that women are nearly 50% of the workforce and it is not possible to avoid 50% of the people you work with.  Important conversations take place privately and women need equal access to those discussions.

Micro-Aggression #5:  Non-inclusive meeting behaviors are tolerated.  Interruptions, taking credit for others’ ideas, and limited participation in meetings signal that the culture is not inclusive.  When underrepresented people are interrupted or not given credit for their ideas, they feel excluded and learn to hold back.  Good meetings are those where all voices are heard equally.

Lead like an ally.  Step up the next time you witness a micro-aggression.  If you see something, say something.  Be a part of the solution vs. the problem.

We need more allies.  We are stronger together.  We are ONE.

I am a equality, leadership, and career development trainer and speaker.  If you are interested in learning more, simply connect with me at Julie@NextPivotPoint.com.

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