There has been a global focus and efforts toward the elimination of racial injustice and discrimination in every subset of society. One of the manifestations of discrimination in the work environment is unconscious bias and microaggressions.
Lots of business leaders and company management in global workplaces are becoming more particular about adopting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategies that promote a work culture that discourages unconscious biases and microaggressions in the workplace.
What are unconscious bias and microaggression? And how they can be effectively tackled in the workplace.
Unconscious bias is also known as implicit or hidden bias. It may be described as connections between different individuals or groups’ qualities and social categories. It could be based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, life experience, background, disability, etc.
Unconscious bias is usually in the form of stereotypes and misinformation. They generally have the effect of impairing judgments about other people, especially underrepresented and underserved people. They often result in decision-making that does not follow conscious deliberation, as they happen quickly and beyond control, thus having a negative effect. Generally, the effect of unconscious bias is that it leads to discrimination and injustice against other people, even where it was not intended.
Unconscious bias often manifests in the workplace in a way that undermines the inclusion efforts of a company. This results in a workplace situation where an employee or a group of employees feels unwelcome, undervalued, and not able to bring their best selves to work productively. Unconscious bias also comes into play in a company’s hiring decisions, promotion opportunities, tasks assigned to each employee, etc. On the other hand, Microaggression has some similarities with unconscious bias. Janice Gassam in a recent Forbes article defined Microaggressions as:
“The everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
Examples of microaggression in the workplace may include a situation where a Chinese person or a person from another country is ‘harmlessly’ told that they speak good English or that they are outspoken. It could also be assumed from a question such as asking an employee “where are you from?”, implying that the co-worker is not Canadian.
Microaggression is also inferred from the use of certain words or unattractive descriptions to refer to another colleague based on some projected stereotypes arising from the fact that they belong to a specific group. For example, the use of the words ‘crazy’, ‘gay’, ‘bipolar’, ‘psycho’, etc. to describe other co-workers.
Unconscious bias and microaggressions can have an unpleasant effect within the workplace. A study by the Center for Health Journalism revealed that microaggressions negatively impact the health of targeted employees. The findings showed that microaggressions in the workplace can cause an increase in the levels of depression and trauma among minority employees.
Generally, employees who are treated fairly within an organization with an inclusive workplace culture are more likely to be positively engaged and productive in the workplace, resulting in better financial yields for the organization.
Tackling unconscious bias and microaggression within the workplace requires an “all hands on deck” kind of approach. This can be achieved through training programs by DEI consultants or experts that encourage inclusion and particularly inculcate strategies that allow individual employees to become increasingly aware of their own biases while proffering solutions on how to put them in check.