Management and Leadership
Microaggressions and Stereotypes in the Virtual Workplace
December 7, 2020
Microaggressions and stereotypes exist on and off the screen. We navigate communication online differently in comparison to in-person interactions. But, in this work-from-home environment, what is the best way to handle these issues?
A negative or derogatory attitude expressed with subtle verbal or behavioral communication towards marginalized groups is a microaggression. The oxford definition of a stereotype is “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” This can manifest itself in the mistaken belief about a group of people based on their outward or physical appearance. Whether intentional or not, this is discrimination.
How Microaggressions and Stereotypes Show Up
In virtual work, we use stereotypes without thinking. The use of videoconferencing applications, such as Zoom and Skype, present a different set of office challenges. Assuming race or cultural identity based on a person’s display name is a microaggression. Slight jokes or comments about interests based on a colleague’s appearance might be overlooked, but these too are microaggressions. Even ignoring, talking over someone, or using condescending speech adds to the buildup of small instances that become larger issues.
The following are examples of microaggressions and what these might sound like.
- “When I see you, I don’t see color.”
This signals the person doesn’t acknowledge cultural identity or won’t hold it against you.
- “You are so articulate.”
This communication expresses that the person believes people from a social and cultural identity are incapable of intellectual conversation.
- “Everyone can succeed in society if they work hard enough.”
This showcases a belief that disparate outcomes for BIPOC result from laziness.
Addressing Uncomfortable Situations
Being on the receiving end of microaggressions in the workplace creates difficult situations. This can be for a number of reasons: the power dynamic, fear of job loss, social anxiety, or nervousness with confrontation.
Leaving these exchanges unaddressed is dangerous. It affects employees’ mental health and quality of work. In addition, cultural stereotypes limit upper management’s ability to realize the full potential of their team.
Let’s outline a few approaches to take when dealing with microaggressions and stereotypes in the workplace.
When responding immediately to the statement, express your feelings. Be honest while calm and collected. It is important to assess whether or not emotions can be governed, so the situation does not escalate.
If the situation is tense and emotions run high, responding immediately might not be best. Try finding time with the person to respond once both parties have collected their thoughts. This approach may likely result in a more effective conversation.
In some cases, in-person confrontation may make individuals uncomfortable. So, sending an email or direct message explaining your feelings towards the situation could also suffice. If there is someone you trust, have them review the message. If not, sit on the message to ensure you’re expressing yourself appropriately. It is important to ensure the message comes across exactly the way intended.
If those approaches seem uncomfortable, contact Human Resources to guide you through this process. All in all, before handling any situation, it is important to think about the outcome.
Employees should be prepared to deal with microaggressions and stereotypes. But, it is equally important for organizations to provide healthy work environments. Some organizations may need to adopt practices or behavior to reduce and eradicate these situations.
Create A Healthy Work Culture
The first step to ridding a workplace of these practices is to acknowledge they exist, whether intentionally or not. Consider forming a diversity and inclusion committee. These committees work within the organization to encourage better practices on the job. By organizing workshops and promoting healthy behavior, each employee will understand their part in creating an inclusive environment.
Employees should be supported and heard so they are comfortable speaking up when they feel violated. Let’s all do our part by making the effort to reduce these incidents of harmful behavior.
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