Memorize these scripts so you can call out microaggressions at work and support your colleagues
- National Black Lives Matter protests have awakened business leaders to the need for immediate action against racism in the workplace.
- A 2019 survey by jobs website Glassdoor found that 61% of US employees have witnessed or experienced workplace discrimination based on age, race, gender, or LGBTQ identity.
- Some of this racism comes out in the form of microaggressions, or subtle, indirect, or unintended acts or remarks that are racist or otherwise offensive.
- If you witness a microaggression against your Black colleague, it's important to be an ally and speak up.
- Minda Harts, author of "The Memo," and other experts share what to say in these uncomfortable situations.
Nationwide Black Lives Matter protests are drawing more attention to racism in all facets of life. That includes racism in the workplace.
Prejudice, bias, and bigotry at work are a lot more common than many business leaders would like to admit. A 2019 survey by jobs website Glassdoor of 1,100 US employees found that 61% of US workers have witnessed or experienced workplace discrimination based on age, race, gender, or LGBTQ identity.
Some of that discrimination presents itself as microaggressions: subtle, indirect, or unintentional acts or remarks that are racist, sexist, ageist, ableist, or otherwise offensive. These remarks can make people feel different, devalued, uncomfortable, and unsafe.
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Speak up and address it in a calm, direct manner.It's important for allies to stand up for their Black and brown colleagues at work, said Sheena Howard, associate professor of communication for the online Masters of Business Communication program at Rider University.
If, for example, a white colleague asks to touch a Black colleague's hair, or worse, does so without their consent, an ally should speak up and call it out."A white colleague in this situation, let's call her Jane, can explicitly stand up against this form of racism. Jane can approach it face-to-face in public, face-to-face in private, or via email with the person that is acting inappropriately," Howard told Business Insider.
Howard said you could say: "It's really not appropriate to ask to touch anyone's hair – that's a microaggression and we don't do that here."Minda Harts, author of "The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table," provided additional insight. "Make them aware of how inappropriate touching someone else's hair is without their consent. You can also add, 'I realize it probably wasn't your intention, but put yourself in their shoes,'" Harts said.
Or perhaps a colleague accidentally uses a word with racist origins such as the word "uppity," which some use today to me "arrogant," but historically was used to describe Black people that "didn't know their socioeconomic place."
Bradley Brummel, associate professor of psychology at the University of Tulsa who specializes in harassment, said you could say something along the lines of: "I just read an article that the term you used has a problematic origin. I think we should use other terms or language for that idea.""If done kindly and without direct confrontation, the point can be made without escalating the situation or assuming aggressive intent," he said.
Ask a pointed question that draws attention to the problematic behavior.
Putting the onus on a person to explain their racist remark or action is another way to draw attention to the problematic behavior.
For example, say you and a group of colleagues are in a meeting reviewing résumés of people you just interviewed and someone makes fun of not being able to pronounce a Black candidate's name.An ally should intervene, and could do so by posing a question, Harts said.
Speaking up in these situations matters, because it shows your Black colleagues you are an ally, and teaches everyone else what is and what isn't allowed."The more someone realizes their biases or racism will no longer be tolerated, the more we are actively reinforcing a no-tolerance zone for racism," Harts said.
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