How to Address Microaggressions You Have Experienced in the Workplace

Contributed by Charlene Sarmiento, Communications Manager, and Angela Lee, Manager of Advocacy Outreach and Engagement, Goodwill Industries International

Note: This is the second blog post in a series on microaggressions. Read the first blog post, where we discussed what microaggressions are — thinly veiled, everyday instances of discrimination. They can range from insults to  comments or gestures. While they may not seem as damaging as more overt forms of oppression, they are harmful to our communities.

Our partners at Indeed created a blog post about microaggressions with advice on how to handle them from Dr. Kevin Nadal, a professor, psychologist and author, who is a leading researcher on the impacts of microaggressions on the mental and physical health of people of color, the LGBTQ community and other groups.

Dr. Nadal recommends that you take time to think about how you want to address the situation. Would an email or a conversation be better? Would it be alone or with an ally? Then, address the offender with ‘I’ statements and provide concrete details on why their language was harmful. Here is an example:

“When I answered a question during our meeting and you responded, ‘Wow, you’re so well spoken,’ I was offended because it sounded like you assumed people of color like myself are less educated than the rest of our colleagues. I value our working relationship. Because I don’t think you meant to commit this microaggression, I wanted to let you know. There are many ways people of color like myself experience microaggressions, and I hope you can educate yourself and be more mindful in the future.”

Making a blanket statement like ‘you’re a racist’ might make someone defensive. However, the individual committing the microaggression cannot deny what they said or how it made you feel.

There are many other models for communicating microaggressions that may be helpful too. No one should make you feel discriminated against or inferior as a result of your skin color, gender, sexual orientation or other attributes.

Make your supervisor and/or human resources colleagues aware when you plan to engage in this type conversation so they can back you up. Prioritize your mental health; reach out to a trusted colleague, loved one or mental health professional to communicate your experience.

In the third and final blog in the series about microaggressions, we discuss how to address microaggressions if you communicated them and how to be an ally and advocate to those who experience them.