Active Voice: Five common microaggressions and how to address them

To #BreakTheBias we need to raise awareness of existing biased behaviours against women and find ways to address them constructively.  Confronting microaggressions is difficult.  The best way to do it is to be prepared.  So we have gathered five examples of common microaggressions and suggested ways in which to tackle these constructively. We hope you’ll find them useful.

  1. “Can you do this for me, Lovely?”

The use of endearing names for women at work might catch us off guard these days, but it is something that women continue to experience and to dislike.   If you are having to deal with someone at work who prefers to refer to you in this manner, you may wish to express your preference to be called by your actual name, particularly at work.

  1. “She’s so aggressive.”

Women are sometimes labelled negatively for the same behaviour that, coming from a man, would seem perfectly reasonable or even expected.  Similarly, when it comes to describing potential,  a young man might be perceived as someone to watch whereas a woman with the same experience might be characterised as young and inexperienced.  In fact, when it comes to promotion, many women are told they’re ‘not ready’ whilst men will be given the opportunity to advance and prove themselves.

If you find that a double standard is being applied to you, consider highlighting the situation by enquiring whether you would have experienced the same behaviour or obstacle if you were a man.

  1. “ You don’t have to stay late.  I know you’re needed at home.”

Well-intentioned colleagues and bosses sometimes feel that they need to protect their female peers.  For instance, many women report assumptions being made about their desire to travel or take on demanding work opportunities on account of having young children or other caring responsibilities.

If you sense that your personal circumstances might give rise to such assumptions, pre-empt the situation by spelling out your work-related intentions and ambitions. For  instance, when you return from maternity leave,  make it clear that the promotion you were working towards before you went on maternity leave must be within reach now that you’re back.

  1. “Would you mind taking the notes today, Jenny?”

Women’s ability is frequently underestimated at work.  Be it the ability to take charge of a team or to deal with a difficult client, women are sometimes overlooked in favour of male peers who are assumed to be more capable.

If you believe you’re being underestimated or treated in a manner inconsistent with your role or capacity, take a stance to counter it by highlighting your role, experience and ability to deal with the situation at hand.  And when it comes to taking notes, you may suggest that there might be someone better equipped for that role, as you yourself are grateful for the support that your administrative assistant provides to you in that way.

  1. “He just barged through, expecting me to get out of his way!”

Women also experience an astounding amount of uninvited physical contact from their male peers.  They are also often expected to make space for men around them – a fact that gave rise to the term ‘manspreading’ (a reference to men covering adjacent space when they spread themselves out on their seat).

Think ahead of what you might say to someone in this situation that will effectively address the issue and preserve the working relationship.   A polite mention of the physical transgression, highlighting the unwanted occurrence, is usually enough to make the other person aware of his blunder.

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