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The role of microaggressions in the workplace

Sometimes, it’s possible to experience discrimination at work because of your race, religion or other characteristic without it being obvious. While blatant discrimination does still happen, such as when a business owner fires all of the African American employees and retains all of the white employees, many cases actually center around microaggressions.

While experts note that some microaggressions are “thinly veiled” instances of discrimination, they also point out that they tend to be everyday encounters. They may appear to be minor, but they happen all the time and can create a hostile work environment.

For instance, maybe someone tells you that you, an African American worker, are surprisingly well educated. They frame it like a compliment, but you notice that they don’t say it to any of your white co-workers. It’s clear that what they’re really saying is that they assumed you wouldn’t be educated because you are African American.

Or, perhaps someone tells you that you’re doing a surprisingly good job as a leader in the workplace. Again, it sounds positive. But what if you’re the only female supervisor? Maybe what they really meant was that they don’t think women can be leaders and so they can’t believe that you’re doing a good job.

Other microaggressions take the form of minor insults or assumptions that are perhaps framed as jokes. When you see this type of thing happen repeatedly, it becomes very difficult to deal with and very clear that you’re being treated unfairly. Make sure you take steps through your manager or your human resources professionals and are well aware of all of the legal options you have if you need to use them. An experienced attorney can help you.


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