9 things people think are fine to say at work - but are actually racist, sexist, or offensive
- Unconscious bias is everywhere - especially in the workplace.
- To avoid a toxic workplace culture, it's important to know which phrases and actions can make employees from different backgrounds or identities feel uncomfortable and targeted.
- These unconscious expressions of racism or sexism are known as microaggressions.
Microaggressions are unconscious expressions of racism or sexism. They come out in seemingly innocuous comments by people who might be well-intentioned.
From telling a new female worker that she "looks like a student" to asking a black colleague about her natural hair, microaggressions often exist in the workplace, too. And they can make a workplace feel unsafe and toxic.
"Because microaggressions are often communicated through language, it is very important to pay attention to how we talk, especially in the workplace and other social institutions like classrooms, courtrooms, and so on," Christine Mallinson, professor of language, literacy, and culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, told Business Insider.
Because microaggressions are so subtle, it's hard to know if you're committing one or if you're on the receiving end.
"One thing is that they are in a sense ambiguous, so that the recipient is apt to feel vaguely insulted, but since the words look and sound complimentary, on the surface (they're most often positive), she can't rightly feel insulted and doesn't know how to respond," Robin Lakoff, Professor Emerita of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, told Business Insider.
Here are some of the most common microaggressions: