We all know that blatant workplace discrimination can derail a person’s job and even their career. So can microaggressions. Miriam-Webster defines a microaggression as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.”
Microaggressions can be harder to protect employees from because the people who engage in them often don’t think they’re being hurtful. In fact, they often think they’re offering a compliment (as in, “You’re very articulate” or “Your English is very good”). However, as a career development professional says, “In the workplace, these incidents—whether they occur accidentally or purposely—can be quite damaging to one’s mental health, well-being, and careers.”
When people don’t feel like they’re fully accepted or included in the workplace, it can slow career advancement. They can begin to feel isolated, which isn’t good for seeking mentors and working on team projects. They may begin to doubt their abilities and feel like they don’t have what it takes to succeed in a profession despite their talent and training. As one professional trainer says, the problem is even more serious for people who fall into multiple categories — for example, women of color.
Microaggressions are a symptom of a larger issue
Since microaggressions typically stem from people’s prejudices, discrimination in hiring and promotions often go along with them. If a hiring manager believes women aren’t as good at engineering as men, they’re less likely to hire a woman regardless of her education and accomplishments. If they believe that someone with a “foreign-sounding” name isn’t really American, even if they were born and raised here, they might not feel like they’re a good fit for the company.
People are often faced with two choices – deal with the microaggressions to keep their job or push back against them, which could cost them the job. One mental health professional says that people can experience burnout and subsequent mental health issues from having to constantly prove themselves – especially when they’re more qualified than their colleagues.
Seeking an employer that embraces and practices diversity rather than just using it as a buzzword is a good start. However, what if the microaggressions you’re experiencing are a symptom of a larger issue that has caused you to suffer workplace discrimination? It may be wise to explore your legal options.