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Microaggression in the Workplace; Managing behaviour

This can often be viewed as a bit of a controversial topic, but today I wanted to write about the challenge of gender bias within the workplace, and how this can manifest in behaviours we notice.


So much has changed over the past few years in terms of awareness and mindfulness towards the subject. So is it even a problem, still? Personal experience and research tell me so....


Studies have shown that 64% of women have experienced microaggression in the workplace! An article explained that, sadly, women are expected to provide more evidence of their competence than men and are also 2x as likely to have been mistaken for someone in a more junior position.


What's that word? Microagression? The Oxford Dictionary defines as "an act or a remark that discriminates against one or more members of a minority group, either deliberately or by mistake"


Now, as the definition mentions this can become apparent within any minority group. Whilst each of these areas are equally as important, as I mentioned, gender bias is the area I am keen to support with as this is the area I personally have witnessed most of the behaviour occur in.


Apart from the obvious issues that come with this topic, I want to talk about how you can recognise certain behaviours, and how you can support another person who may be subject to this unwelcome behaviour.




Gender bias or discrimination in the workplace can happen in many different ways.

It can fall into the awkward "office politics" and "work etiquette" folder. And I don't mean in the obvious ways (in that it should be addressed or have a clear policy). I mean in the way that we tend to recognise this and attempt to justify it with "He's just old school..." or "I can't say anything because he's my boss/senior" or "He hates being corrected so just let him have his rant"


Often, as women we can be cautious about whether or not we have actually experienced such discrimination. Often we don't want to "make a fuss" about something that was maybe misunderstood.


Did that really happen?

Did he mean it in that way?

How can I be sure if nobody else saw...?

It was probably just banter...


A lot of the time these occurrences could be a fleeting comment or "dig", that seems to crop up regularly. Sometimes, it doesn't even have to be anything said verbally. I've been in situations before where wide eyed, raised eyebrows, patronising faces pulled have felt more intentional and callous than any comment could.


This behaviour is not only incredibly disrespectful, it has the potential to have long lasting affects on our self-worth. Understanding how to recognise and deal with such behaviour is crucial to our consistent personal development both in and outside of the workplace.


As with any other areas of your life it's important to reflect back on experiences you've had to identify if and when this may have occurred so that you are best placed to notice in the future. I recently did a short course on Microaggression and it definitely gave me a new perspective.


Recognising this benefits not just yourself! Sometimes it's easier to notice on behalf of someone else, and because of how uncomfortable we tend to feel in these situations, it can be difficult to have the courage to respond.

I'll start off today by giving 3 common examples of how this can subtly creep into your every day working life. These examples might typically occur in a meeting setting but of course can be identified elsewhere:


  1. The "Talkover". Who's been there? You'll be in a professional environment such as a meeting, and may have just started speaking when a male co-worker begins to talk over you in a way in which dismisses or attempts to remove the credibility from your comment. Often in this situation, it's common to feel so surprised by this that whilst you pause to take it in, your time to speak is completely hijacked!

  2. The "Idea Pincher"! The absolute cheek! This can have occurred if you've started to mention something at the beginning of the meeting and been spoken over, that same person then proceeds to present your idea or solution as their own! Often they will re-phrase the idea using different examples or wording to disguise it. Rather than dropping your jaw in disbelief, we need to take back our credibility.

  3. The "Ignorer". You've contributed to a group conversation and the reaction is either total silence before the conversation is resumed, or the conversation could be resumed with a dismissive word such as "Anyway..." or "Hmm, or....". This is especially irritating when you know your contribution is valid . For the record, I've experienced this in situations where the reason it has been dismissed it because the ignorer doesn't know the answer (and doesn't want to admit it), so their port of call is to try and make me feel inferior.


Have you experienced any of these? Have you felt irritated at the time but perhaps pushed it to the back of your mind afterwards or made excuses?


Because this can happen in so many different scenarios there's never an easy "one size fits all" fix. For example, it can feel easier to call out an internal colleague than it is to correct one of your important customers. Only you will know what feels right to do. But to try and help, here are 3 fixes to the common challenges we have discussed above.


Common fixes:


  1. The "Talkover" If somebody has interrupted you and spoken over you, the best way to handle it can be simply politely asking to finish your point. Assume their best intentions and say something like "Excuse me, John, I hadn't actually finished my point and I think it's relevant to the understanding of the group.... so", and then reiterate and continue.

  2. The "Idea Pincher!" When somebody tried to pass off your idea as their own, a common way to reclaim this could be to say "You've explained that in a really digestible way John, which I love, as when I originally came up with this idea it felt quite complex. I'm really glad it resonated." Remember, if it was somebody else that you recall coming up with it originally, you can redirect this back to them. "I totally agree John! Ella, is this how you envisioned it when you first had the idea?"

  3. The "Ignorer" If somebody ignores your contribution to a conversation or meeting, we need to call them out on it and try to understand if there is actually a reason. When they begin to speak again after ignoring you, you could say something like "Is there something I've misunderstood, could we go back a step? Could you provide more detail on XYZ"? Quite often, the ignorer will then backtrack and admit your understanding was correct, and sometimes may even apologise....


Try these out and see what you think!


If this is an internal co-worker and their behaviour persists and possible worsens, I empathise as this is a tricky situation. Firstly, many medium to large organisations will have policies in place about such things, so research this. Following this try these 3 steps:


  • Ensure you document all instances in as much detail as possible

  • Try direct confrontation outside of the group. Explain what happened and why it was disrespectful. Sometimes the person may not have realised how dismissive they were and will appreciate you calling them out on it.

  • If this still persists, then report the behaviour to an HR representative, ensuring it is in line with your company policy


Remember, be vigilant and support your fellow female co-workers. Share this blog with any women you feel may benefit, and if you witness any microaggression, do your best to use any of the 3 methods provided on their behalf.


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