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What should I do about microaggressions at work?

On Behalf of | Aug 11, 2019 | Employment Law - Employees

Blatant discrimination at work is usually easy to identify. However, microaggressions, which are smaller, yet still hurtful, slights aimed at minority workers, are much harder to pin down. Even if the worker has a completely valid claim about poor behavior, it can be difficult to communicate the issue to others. This is especially true for the person responsible for the slight, who might be coming from an ignorant, yet well-intentioned place. CNBC offers the following examples of microaggressions and how employees can deal with them. 

Comments about natural hair

It’s generally not a good idea to comment on a person’s appearance in a work setting. It’s even more problematic when the comment concerns an African-American woman and whether her hair is “natural”. These comments are highly personal and insulting, and often put the person on the spot. In some cases, it may be appropriate to speak with the commenter and explain how poorly these questions come across. If the comment comes from a higher up, you may want to address the issue someone on equal footing or even bring up the matter to human resources. 


Some people at work like to talk over others. While rude, interruptions aren’t always considered microaggressions. They can be an issue when a person constantly talks over a female or minority worker, with the intention of clarifying what the person was saying. This issue is even more frustrating when the person doing the interrupting lacks knowledge on the subject and assumes authority anyway. A united front is the best in this case. When someone is interrupted, another member of the group should jump in and redirect attention back to the person who was originally speaking. 

Comments about articulation

One should never assume that a person of color is not a born and bred American. This is often the case when an American-born person is lauded for his or her speaking ability simply based on ethnic background. While it appears to be a compliment from the person affording it, it’s actually quite insulting to assume that a Latina or Asian-American worker wouldn’t have a proper grasp of the language in a country where they were born. In this case, a person might graciously accept the compliment while also pointing that they were born in this country, which establishes the absurdity of such statements. 


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