Even in 2024, workplace microaggressions such as “Is that your real hair?” or “You’re so articulate” persist nationwide. Despite their subtle nature, these behaviors do not go unnoticed, leaving a lasting impact on the workplace atmosphere, morale and creating challenges for those targeted. From making assumptions about one’s abilities based on background to perpetuating stereotypes and using exclusionary language, managing workplace microaggressions requires a thoughtful approach.

The first vital step is acknowledging that even well-meant words can cause harm. Building an understanding that unintended comments often reinforce unfair systems allows us to then dismantle that damage. Additionally, self-awareness of our own possible microaggressions, though uncomfortable, can prevent workplace exclusion.

According to the 2023 McKinsey & Company report on Women in the Workplace, 78 percent of women resort to self-shielding at work in response to these microaggressions, modifying their appearance or behavior to safeguard themselves. The report underscores not only the influence of managing workplace microaggressions on women’s professional trajectories but also their implications for physical and mental well-being. Many women, particularly Black women, experience the necessity of “code-switching” to shield themselves from adverse reactions or potential backlash.

Responding proactively to witnessed incidents is crucial to fostering a workplace culture that values respect and inclusion.

What To Do When Witnessing A Microaggression At Work

Addressing workplace microaggressions requires a collective and proactive effort. In the face of such situations, it’s crucial to speak up promptly by expressing discomfort and educating individuals about the inappropriateness of their comments or behavior. This not only addresses the immediate issue but contributes to fostering a culture of awareness and accountability.

Supporting the targeted individual is equally vital for creating a workplace that values empathy and solidarity. Privately reaching out to the person who experienced the microaggression sends a powerful message of support, offering understanding and fortifying the workforce against such incidents.

Simultaneously, reporting these incidents through established mechanisms ensures documentation, paving the way for appropriate and decisive action to create a safer and more inclusive work environment.

What Companies Can Do To Combat Microaggressions At Work

Eliminating microaggressions requires concerted organizational effort reflected across policies, processes, and culture. First, leadership must communicate zero tolerance for subtle biases and stereotyping. Human Resources should also follow up by codifying enforcement procedures through complaint reporting channels. Employees at all levels must commit to recognizing microaggressive behaviors and speaking out against them respectfully yet directly through whatever guidance is provided in the updated conduct code.

Lastly the company should invest proactively in comprehensive training, education and skill-building around identifying and preventing microaggressions. By recognizing the existence of microaggression, understanding their impact, and proactively addressing them, we create a workplace culture that values respect, inclusion, and understanding. In 2024 and beyond, fostering an environment free from microaggressions is essential for a truly inclusive and supportive professional landscape.