Intentional or not, microinequities are commonplace in the workplace, and they can make people of color feel unwelcome and unappreciated. Here are three common microinequities that you should be on the lookout for, so you can avoid them if you don’t want to create an unwelcoming atmosphere at your company.
Have you ever had a co-worker make comments like, I’m not racist. I have one black friend. Or maybe they say things to you like, Why do you have to be so political? There are other ways to solve your problems. These types of microinvalidations might seem harmless or well-intentioned, but they definitely leave some people of color feeling uneasy or unwelcome in a workplace. Of course, companies don’t want their employees coming into work and being made to feel uncomfortable—but it happens all too often. Luckily, there are steps that can be taken to create an inclusive environment for people of all races.
2) Tone policing
As diversity and inclusion expert Brooke Erin Duffy notes, tone policing is a tool of oppression, rooted in a need to maintain status-quo power structures. By invalidating someone’s emotions about racism or microaggressions, you are sending them a clear message: that their experience is not valid, that they have no right to feel offended. For people of color who already experience implicit bias—that is, being treated differently because of your race—the fact that their feelings are dismissed as overreactions is especially problematic. Often those feelings aren’t overreactions at all: they are an accurate reading of what’s happening to them in that moment. Using terms like oversensitive or emotional responses makes it clear that these feelings aren’t legitimate. They undermine people of color by suggesting there is only one way to respond to racism and discrimination; one emotion we should be feeling when experiencing prejudice—anger. If we feel otherwise, we are labeled as overly emotional and irrational. In reality, our responses vary widely based on our unique life experiences.
Many companies and organizations are trying to diversify their staff in order to better represent their diverse markets. However, simply hiring diverse talent doesn’t guarantee that they will feel comfortable and welcome at work. When recruiting diverse candidates, it’s important to recognize that not all people who look different have similar life experiences or cultural touchstones; there is no single non-white experience or a Latinx way of life. Microinvalidations can seem minor, but they add up over time and feed into larger cultural stereotypes. Hiring managers should take time to get acquainted with each candidate on an individual level; asking about unique interests or hobbies outside work could help uncover a shared passion for salsa dancing or volunteering at an animal shelter. It may sound crazy, but making connections like these can help break down barriers and change negative perceptions one microinequity at a time.
Diversity & Inclusion Should be More Than a Buzzword: Sure, it’s easy to box check – as in, make a social media post saying you’re celebrating Women’s History Month, or post that one POC employee during Black History or Hispanic Heritage Month. It may seem like you’re paying lip service to diversity and inclusion without thinking about what it means for people who aren’t into tokenism. If we really want to foster diverse groups of people, we need to work on creating environments where everyone feels included from day one — not just every other Thursday. We can start by understanding microinequities and being aware of them when they occur.
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