How Microaggressions Training Reduces Conflict in the Workplace

microagression trainingMicroagression training has become an important piece of the cultural puzzle in a diverse workplace.  The introduction of Gen Y and Z into the workplace has made Corporate America (particularly Fortune 500 companies) one of the most diverse places in America. People of all races, cultures, and religions work together to create a sense of unity and work towards common goals and a mission. The workplace culture of inclusion and diversity matters to the younger generations, and setting the tone makes a difference in their success and willingness to stay at the organization. When employees are not trained or improperly trained about the organization’s culture and how it aims to foster an environment of respect for all, new employees tend not to know how to establish and maintain professional boundaries. Whenever new employees do not know an organization’s norms, they tend to behave not as expected, negatively impacting the workplace environment.

Any concerned employer needs to understand the importance of training employees in diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure a safe and respectful workplace that will enable success for all employees. One area of concern for respectful workplaces is the rise of microaggressions, which have become more prevalent. The article focuses on three takeaways that 1) Define microaggressions and show how they impact culture and individuals; 2) Explain how microaggressions devalue an individual’s humanity (particularly underrepresented groups); and 3) Show how the actions from microaggressions impact retention and diminish creativity from all employees.  All these should be a part of an inclusive microaggression training program.

Microaggressions are defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” The term “Microaggressions” was coined by psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce in the 1970s during his work with African-American patients who experienced “insults from white Americans.” He later applied it to the general public in the 1980s. Underrepresented groups have voiced concern about the impact of microaggressions in the workplace. Microaggressions are linked to a hostile workplace culture, which impacts diversity and retention. Therefore, we must be aware of these biases so that people of color are not left out, feel disrespected, or undervalued in the workplace. An example of a microaggression in the workplace looks like this: “Wow, Julio, you really are well-read and cultured, are you sure you were born in Compton, CA?” In the prior example, the employee is giving a backhanded compliment to Julio, and asking if he is really from an area that has a perception of having less access to resources like schools and cultural arts.

Women discussion microagression trainingMicroaggressions can also be subtle forms of racism that are not overt but have the same effect as outright discrimination. While microaggressions are often unintentional, they can impact workplace culture and feel like safety or inclusion among employees. However, not everyone will experience microaggressions in the same way because there is no universal understanding of what is offensive or not. Take for example this form of microaggression when a male gives a compliment and asks a female to follow-up with a client, “Julie, you’re an excellent project manager, can you follow up with the client to obtain their dietary restrictions and order our lunch for tomorrow? Here is my order.” While it may seem innocuous, the microaggression is when the male assumes the project manager is supposed to follow up with the client and obtain their food order. Establishing common language and etiquette and providing methods to approach colleagues can minimize misunderstanding and alienation; this is widely known as professional boundaries in the workplace.

Conducting Microaggression Training can be useful in the workplace by bringing awareness on how microaggressions impact an organization’s workplace culture and is essential to understanding the retention of employees and future-proofing your organization for retirements and natural attrition. Therefore, organizations need to assess their culture and be mindful of how certain behaviors create a hostile environment and alienate underrepresented groups through microaggressions. There is no easy way to eliminate microaggressions because they exist in many different forms. However, through Microaggression Training it is possible to minimize them by educating both employees and managers on how to be better allies for their co-workers and ensuring everyone knows how to deal with microaggressions. Everyone must know what a microaggression is and how to react when someone experiences one of these small actions or behaviors that inflict harm on a specific group, such as a person of color, a woman, etc.

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