“Hey, can I touch your hair?”
Last month, raceAhead announced that we were working with SurveyMonkey on some fresh research on microaggressions in the workplace.
Well, the results are in, and they’re just as illuminating as you might expect.
And no, I can’t touch your hair. It’s a microaggression. And if my asking upset you, then I should be given a chance to apologize and coached on how to do better.
That’s one of the big takeaways from the research, which asked 4,274 workers about microaggressions, and explored how people from a variety of underrepresented groups experienced them differently.
As it turns out, some 68 percent of U.S. workers say they consider microaggressions a serious problem. Managers were frequently mentioned as the aggressors.
More than a quarter of respondents (26 percent) have definitely experienced a microaggression at work, and another 22 percent are unsure. Thirty-six percent have witnessed one (with another 24 percent unsure).
That leaves about 40 percent breezing through their workdays unbothered by the nuanced biases of others. Since only 10 percent of people admit to or understand that they’ve actually been an aggressor in the past, either they’re doing the lion’s share of offending, or there are plenty of us who have some learning to do.
The stories the researchers collected speak for themselves:
- Went to a meeting; I was the only woman in the meeting. I was asked to sit in the back and take notes. This occurred in 2019; I have an MBA. (White female, 53, Education)
- Someone said I reminded them of their friend’s grandmother. (White female, 56, Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals)
- Senior partner asked to “touch my hair” in order to confirm it was “all mine.” Just wow. (Latinx female, 37, Advertising and Marketing)
- When people speak to me over the phone before meeting me, they think I’m white. When meeting me, there is an unintentional facial reaction because I’m black and they are a little shocked. This happened when I interviewed for my current job. It implies that being black and well-spoken isn’t the norm.(Black female, 38, Food and Beverage)
- My boss at my old job thought it was funny when my car broke down and I had to walk and catch the bus that I wasn’t losing any weight because of all the walking I was doing. (Black female, 32, Government)
- While I was talking to another colleague who was older, we were having an intense conversation about how to solve a challenge we had identified. He interrupted me and said, “now young lady…” and then told me how what I was saying was incorrect in his opinion (White female, 47, Nonprofit)
- Jeff looked at the wall of fame and saw my name was mentioned many times during the 12 month period. He told me “you will see a lot more American names.” (Asian male, 69, Finance and Financial Services)
- A co-worker was describing the behavior and attitude of African Americans in general with a negative connotation but I was excluded because I was one of the “good kind”. (Black male, 60, Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals)
- An interviewer rejected my candidacy for an open position because I was 50+ and was believed “unable/unwilling” to learn new Marketing techniques/skills (White male, 58, Manufacturing)
- I started a new position… and when I asked questions to a team of predominantly white males I was asked what was my qualifications instead of answering my question. I was the only one qualified on the entire team. I have an engineering degree and training (before certifications) (Black female, 50, Nonprofit)
Microaggressions! Not as subtle as one might think.
Jillesa Gebhardt, the lead researcher on the survey, says that these kinds of interactions do more than just sting. They further alienate an already underrepresented segment of your workforce.
“This research shows that microaggressions are widespread in our workplaces, and they are deeply upsetting to the people who experience them. Companies need to take this seriously to prevent people who may already feel marginalized from leaving their organizations—and taking their talents and abilities with them,” she says.
While gender (35 percent), age (33 percent), physical appearance (31 percent), and race (30 percent) are the identities most commonly targeted, up to a quarter of workers said that they considered unprofessional behavior, hearing demeaning comments about peers, or having one’s idea taken by someone else to be so upsetting that they’d consider leaving their jobs.
This is why it’s important to get management on board, says Gebhardt.
For one thing, the data shows that people need help dealing.
People who have experienced a microaggression are nearly twice as likely to say that the harasser should be spoken to by their manager (47 percent) or by human resources (44 percent) than by the victim (25 percent).
“There seems to be a general understanding that microaggressions don’t come from hardened prejudice—they often stem from a person’s ignorance or lack of awareness. So people don’t want those who commit microaggressions to be fired, but they do want companies to do something about the problem. Providing resources to increase awareness of microaggressions and encouraging conversations about their impact in the workplace are good places to start.”
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|Indiewire|RaceAhead student intern Aidan Taylor assisted in the preparation of today's summaries. You'll get to know him better tomorrow.