The term microaggression describes seemingly trivial, commonplace behaviours or comments that unintentionally exclude or humiliate a person. Image Credit: Pexels/Pavel Danilyuk

Getting interrupted when you’re sharing your opinion. Not being acknowledged during meet-and-greets. Asking to speak to your male colleague when you’re the expert or project lead. Do these situations sound familiar?

Click start to play today’s Spell It, where you can find workplace ‘conflict’ in the form of microaggressions.

Searches for the term ‘microaggression’ have doubled in the past two years, according to Google Trends. The term describes seemingly trivial, commonplace behaviours or comments that unintentionally exclude or humiliate a person. According to a September 30 report in US-based business news website Harvard Business Review (HBR), women and ethnic/racial minorities are most likely to experience microaggressions in the workplace.

But what exactly do microaggressions look like? Here are some ways to identify them:

  • They invalidate competence: Comments or behaviours downplay or question a woman’s technical skills. For instance, a person may have their technical qualifications questioned during a performance review. Or someone may ask to speak to the woman’s male colleague, even though she is the expert on the subject matter.
  • They invalidate physical presence: Interrupting or disregarding a person’s presence in the room. For instance, a woman may find herself interrupted while she’s speaking in a meeting. Or she is completely ignored during meet-and-greets.
  • They gaslight: Comments that try to convince a woman that she did not just experience gender bias. For instance, someone would say, “he’s not sexist; he’s like that with everyone”. Or a colleague would try to convince the person that they’re being too sensitive about the situation.

On their own, these comments and behaviours may seem harmless, but they add up and cause victims to experience a range of negative emotions, from the feeling of being overwhelmed, to constantly feeling the need to prove themselves. It’s exhausting and emotionally draining. And according to a November 2018 report in HBR, repeated exposure to microaggressions is causing qualified, skilled women to step back from pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields.

There are ways you can help, when you spot microaggression taking place. One way is to speak up when and where appropriate. Giving credit where it’s due is simple – for instance, you could segue to the next idea in a meeting, by saying something like, “Thank you, Hina, for that suggestion. Let’s move on to…” This acknowledgment goes a long way in making people feel validated and heard.

Another way to block a microaggression is by interrupting the interruptor. You could say, “Actually, Meera wasn’t done speaking”, and give the figurative mic back to the person it was snatched from. You could also highlight a woman’s competence and accomplishments if others try to wrongly reject her abilities, by saying something to this effect: “I’m quite sure it was Anna who wrote that report. You should ask her about it.”

Finally, when women combat frequent gaslighting, ally intervention can be a huge support. You can reach out and simply validate their feelings so that they know they’re not being ‘overly sensitive’ or ‘delusional’. Even privately expressing your support for women can have a powerful influence in buffering the negative effects of microaggressions. For instance, a male colleague who has noticed his female colleague being constantly interrupted in meetings, could talk to her and express how unfair it is, and then resolve to help the next time it happens.

Have you ever faced microaggression at the workplace? Play today’s Spell It and tell us at games@gulfnews.com.