Recap: Preparing for Microagressions in the Workplace

By Paige McKinsey

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Women’s Information Network’s (WIN) event “Women Opening Doors for Women,” in which members of WIN are able to attend a dinner private homes and businesses and hear speakers discuss various topics. Of 19 dinner options, I chose one called “You Don’t Look Like A…” that focused on microaggressions in the workplace.

Although I have certainly experienced microagressions, I knew as a white, cisgender, able-bodied woman, my experiences with microagressions could not hold a candle to the experiences of others – and I wanted to learn more.

Via Shutterstock,
Via Shutterstock,

The speakers included Danielle Moodie-Mills, an Advisor to the FIRE Initiative and founder of Politini, Aisha Moodie-Mills, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and Allison Wise, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at The National Archives. Needless to say, I was excited to hear what these women had to share with me.

When I arrived to the dinner, I quickly learned I was the youngest in attendance as the other guests were all professionals. Although at first this made me nervous, I am grateful that I was able to hear the stories of countless women repeating a general theme throughout the night; the struggle continues into career-hood. As a rising senior, post-graduate life is only a few short months away and thanks to this dinner I now have a better sense of what awaits me on the other side.

For almost all the women that spoke, I noticed a few commonalities. First, all the women experienced microagressions from coworkers and bosses almost daily. Second, many women struggled with how to approach the topic with their coworkers and bosses. Lastly, many women, especially the women of color, believed that if they confronted a coworker or boss about microagressions, they would experience some form of retaliation.

Here is a quick example of one woman’s story:

As one of the only women of color working in her office, one woman tried to be assertive in her interactions with her colleagues as a means to gain their respect and make sure her voice was heard. One of the speakers referred to this as “channeling your inner white boy.” One day she was pulled aside by her boss and told that other employees had complained that she was too “brusque”. While she was sure that her behavior was similar to that of her male counterparts, she feared that if she spoke up that she would be labeled as the “angry black girl.”

This is the advice the speakers had for her:

  1. Continue to be assertive and demand respect from the people you work with. People will treat you the way you demand to be treated, so make sure from the start they know you will not tolerate microagressions.
  2. If confronted about your assertiveness, ask your boss for an example of a time when you were too assertive. If they cite an example of behavior you have seen from a male colleague, point it out.
  3. Do not assume that someone is coming from a place of mal-intent. When you hear a microagression, say something, but allow it to be a civil conversation. It is often through these conversations that you can build connections and networks.
  4. Don’t worry about being labeled. If people would rather label you than listen to what you have to say, that’s on them. This is not to say that there are not real consequences to being labeled – there are. However, if you build solid connections within your office then when a person tries painting you in a certain way, the people within your network will vouch for you.

So as I enter my senior year, and the reality of a career gets closer and closer every day, I will at least take comfort in knowing I have a bit of a head start.

By Paige McKinsey

Paige is a summer intern for FMF working on the Global Health and Human Rights Campaign, Education Equity Program, and the Campus Leadership Program. She is a rising senior at the University of Mary Washington where she double majors in Women and Gender Studies and International Affairs.

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