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Diversity & Inclusion Series: How – and Why – to Reduce Microaggressions in the Office

Published: March 7, 2019

Author: Corey Atkins

Creating a more diverse, inclusive culture has been one of 3Q Digital’s biggest initiatives since 2017, and it’s not just about becoming a better business; it’s about being better people. As part of this initiative, we present our second week-long blog series dedicated to issues we’re trying to address, how we’re trying to address them, and the challenges we’re encountering as we go.

It’s 2019, and the professional world is as diverse as ever. Social justice movements continue to shape and influence our society, pushing the U.S. towards increased equity and opportunity for all. As we move forward, we reflect critically on cultural norms, and it can be discovered that behaviors, ways of speaking, even traditions that are used every day can actually be quite problematic, and harmful toward minority groups of people. As a workplace, it is critical that we all take every step we can to encourage and promote a accepting, supportive environment for all our co-workers and potential co-workers.

The list below describes 4 types of microaggressions that perpetuate harmful systems of oppression, meant to restrict distribution of privilege and power to minority groups. By reconsidering our use of them in everyday life, we can begin to build a workplace that fosters growth and success for professionals of all identities.

But first, what are microaggressions?

The dictionary describes a microaggression as ‘a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.’
Put simply, a microaggression is an subtle or unintentional expression of classism, sexism, racism, homophobia, religious intolerance, or other system of oppression.
Before continuing on, it’s important to recognize that microaggressions often come from a place of ignorance, which can stem from lack of education or awareness. If you realize you’ve committed an aggression mentioned below, please try and take this feedback with an open mind. Additionally, if you experience someone else committing an aggression, perhaps call their attention to it privately, or direct them to a resource. Judgment based on education is also an expression of classism, and everyone deserves a second chance (or 3 or 4) to understand their mistake and make strides towards change.
That said, here are four ways to help reduce microaggressions (inside and outside of the office):

1. Be Mindful With Word Choice

A small change can make a difference when it comes to word choice. Whether in presentations with clients or internal team communications, the practice of mindful word choice can prevent unintentional harm or distraction from your discussions. Below are a few examples of commonly used terms that may be interpreted as offensive:

  • ‘Man Up’ or ‘Be a Man’ – Relies on the stereotype that strength is aligned with masculinity.
  • ‘That’s so Ghetto’ – This loaded term has connotations of racism and classism.
  • ‘But where are you actually from?’ – Assuming that because someone has non-caucasian features, they aren’t originally from the U.S.
  • ‘I don’t see color’ – Denies a person of their racial / ethnic experiences, and asserts that race has no influence on success.
  • ‘Retarded’ or mockery of disabilities
  • Referring to material objects as female-gender – Perpetuates the objectification of women

The list goes on.
If you find yourself questioning something you or someone else has said, un-pack the term. What is being assumed? What stereotypes are being relied on? Rule of thumb – if you are questioning it, don’t say it.

2. Maintain a Diverse Leadership and Staff

One of the most harmful microaggressions can be identified simply by scanning a company team page – diversity in staff is crucial for providing fresh perspectives, experiences, and most importantly, people. Companies with diverse staff and leadership attract more applicants, and therefore more competition. Employees who do not see their background reflected in the leadership can potentially be discouraged. When a company establishes a diverse leadership, employees of all backgrounds can feel driven and comfortable to be ambitious and strive toward upward professional mobility. Finally, diversity in staff has been proven to drive greater profits.  Check out this article on Forbes to see why.
Combatting this microaggression can be daunting, but small changes can make a big difference. Try using different methods of networking, rather than just one, to reach different groups of people. As a company, be sure you are not ignoring alternative schools or lower-income communities when hosting events or attending job fairs.
Or consider creating a committee to focus on this issue. (3Qers, check out the Diversity in Hiring committee to participate in some of our efforts!)

3. Prevent Cultural Appropriation

This is an issue you may see posts about on social media, just before Halloween, asking that you please don’t dress up as Pocahontas or wear blackface as a costume this year. Cultural appropriation occurs when cultural elements of one minority group are copied, adopted, or imitated by a member of a more dominant group in society, effectively making a mockery of them. In the workplace, this may occur during events like lunches, contests, or perk events, when a theme may be based off of a culture or ethnicity. If you find yourself hesitating, and questioning your outfit, decorations, or theme, you should probably try something else.
Another place cultural appropriation may occur at work? On Slack – in meme culture. Read some more on that in this article from Guardian.

4. Recognize Your Own Privilege and Power

In an informal study conducted by Kiernan Snyder, a woman working in a tech start-up, it was discovered that her male coworkers were three times more likely to interrupt women coworkers as women were to interrupt men.  For women of color, the numbers were even higher. As a member of a dominant group, awareness of this existence of privilege is vital. It is the responsibility of individuals in positions of power to lift up their co-workers, and understand these imbalances in advantages. As a company, it is the responsibility of leadership to place priority on conversation, workshops, and goals on diversity in the office. The benefits that can come from putting time and money towards these causes have been shown to pay off, whether through company reputation or employee satisfaction rates.
It can be a frustrating and alienating experience when a microaggression occurs. If you feel you have been targeted, whether or not to respond to the aggressor is completely up to your discretion. If you decide to respond, make an effort to criticize the microaggression itself, not the microaggressor.
“Committing a microaggression is not indicative that we’re bad people. It’s more indicative of a society where the dominant world view tends to be Eurocentric, masculine, and heterosexual.” (Dr. Vincenzo Teran of Harvard Medical School)
The future is intersectional, and so is the world of Digital Marketing! Do your part to keep your company pointed in the right direction.

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