Microaggressions Can Become Part of an Organization’s Culture. Here’s Why

by Apr 10, 2024

We’re talking a lot about making sure everyone feels included and respected in the workplace. But sometimes, it’s not the big, obvious stuff that makes people feel excluded and disrespected – it’s the little things.

We have likely all experienced situations where someone’s words or actions felt unkind or disrespectful towards our identity. These subtle actions are referred to as “microaggression”

They can target various aspects of who we are, including race, gender, sexuality, parental status, socioeconomic background, mental health, or any other defining feature of our identity. While some microaggressions are intentional, many of these comments are unintentionally harmful.

A survey discovered that 26 percent of 4,274 adults claimed to have “definitely” encountered a microaggression at their workplace, while another 22 percent were unsure if they had. Additionally, 36 percent of respondents admitted to witnessing microaggressions in their workplace.

So, why do microaggressions persist and become part of organizational cultures?

Normalization

When microaggressions happen a lot, it starts to seem normal. Over time, repeated instances of microaggressions can solidify their presence within the organizational culture, reinforcing the notion that they are acceptable forms of communication. It can become deeply ingrained in the fabric of everyday interactions if it’s not addressed.

Unconscious Bias

Sometimes, individuals may not even be aware that their words or actions are hurtful. Microaggressions often stem from unconscious biases and communication patterns, which can be exacerbated by toxic behaviors. Our coaching approach tackles these intertwined challenges by helping individuals develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Power Differences

Microaggressions often happen when there’s a difference in power between people. For example, someone with more authority or privilege might say or do something hurtful without even realizing it. 

This can make it hard for the person being hurt to speak up because they might be afraid of what will happen if they do. This fear can keep them silent, allowing the hurtful behavior to continue.

Lack of Awareness

This is a common issue with microaggressions. Many people don’t realize why these actions are harmful because they haven’t been taught about them. Without proper training, these behaviors can persist. 

Training programs focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion, self-awareness, or intercultural communication can help people understand why it’s important to consider how their words and actions impact others.

Resistance to Change

Companies can be resistant to changing the way things are done, especially when it involves challenging deeply ingrained attitudes and behaviors. Addressing microaggressions means changing how people interact and think about each other, which can be hard. 

Some people might resist this change because they’re used to the way things are. But creating a more inclusive environment means being committed to making these changes, even if it’s difficult. We are making our course on Handling Workplace Bullying FREE! Don’t miss out on this opportunity to access valuable resources and empower yourself to make a positive change.

 

In a Nutshell,

It’s clear that microaggressions can really shape how things work in an organization. They sneak in slowly and can make people feel pretty lousy.

But if everyone makes an effort to understand and address them, treat everyone fairly, and leaders hold themselves and everyone accountable, you can put a stop to them. Always strive to create a workplace where everyone feels respected and valued, for a better place everyone to work together.

Don’t let microaggressions hinder your organization’s progress. Take action today! You may visit our FAQ page and contact us if you have more questions.

Civility is the platform for organizational success—it is absolutely necessary for an organization to reach its goals. Download our Ebook on Seeking Civility to learn more on how to create a workplace free of bullying and abusive conduct.

 

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

Your Culture Matters as Much as Your Legal Compliance

Legal compliance serves as the bedrock of any organization. While it lays the foundation, a positive workplace culture breathes life into your organization. A strong, supportive culture fosters employee engagement, boosts morale, and enhances productivity.  This...

How We Create Respectful Work Cultures

For the past 15 years, we have been dedicated to transforming toxic workplace cultures and fostering positive environments through executive coaching, corporate training, and large-scale culture change projects. We’ve serviced over 250 clients and their thousands of...

42% of employees would QUIT over political disagreements

Is it appropriate to restrict employees from expressing their political views at work? On the one hand, you want people to feel free to express themselves. But then, you don't want those water cooler chats to turn into full-blown political showdowns. According to a...

Why Retaining Top Talent is More Difficult Than Ever

Finding and keeping great employees can be tough for companies all over. With changes in employee expectations, advancements in technology, and shifts in the job market, it's a real challenge. In 2019, a whopping 42 million U.S. workers alone said "so long" to their...

Can Your Corporate Culture Influence Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence is a serious concern for organizations worldwide. While there are many reasons why it happens, one thing that doesn't get enough attention is the company culture itself. How people act and treat each other at work can make violence more or less...

How to Utilize Culture Surveys for Cultural Change

Surveys are a wonderful resource for measuring the success of culture change. Many clients approach us with the awareness of a cultural problem…but an inability to identify the cause. And that’s where we step in, often using survey scores as an identifier.  Let’s take...

Microaggressions Can Become Part of an Organization’s Culture. Here’s Why

We're talking a lot about making sure everyone feels included and respected in the workplace. But sometimes, it's not the big, obvious stuff that makes people feel excluded and disrespected - it's the little things. We have likely all experienced situations where...

5 Unfair and Discriminatory Hiring Practices That Go Unnoticed

Businesses that prioritize diversity in their workforce significantly increase the likelihood of fostering creative and innovative thinking among their employees by 150%. Also, companies with a lot of different ethnicities and races in their management team are 35%...

How the Lack of Training Affects your Organization

The workforce is the heart of any thriving company. However, without proper training, employees may find themselves ill-equipped to meet the demands of their roles effectively.  Millennials think learning and growing are important reasons for joining a new company....

Why it’s Getting Harder for Some Women to Report Harassment

The United Nations Women found that about 1 in every 3 women has been sexually harassed at work. 3 out of 4 of them never report it to a manager, HR or anyone else. Imagine a world where every woman is treated with the respect and dignity she deserves. Unfortunately,...