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Understanding Microaggression in the Workplace.


Microaggressions are subtle, often unintentional behaviours or remarks that communicate derogatory or negative messages towards marginalized or underrepresented groups based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or other identifying characteristics. These everyday slights, insults, or invalidations can be expressed through words, actions, or environmental cues, and can have a cumulative and harmful impact on individuals and communities over time. Microaggressions can manifest in various forms, including microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations, and can perpetuate systemic oppression by reinforcing stereotypes, power imbalances, and discrimination. ( Smith, 2020)


Microaggressions can manifest in different ways, including verbal, behavioural, and environmental. Here are some examples.

Verbal microaggressions

These are subtle and indirect verbal expressions that communicate negative messages towards marginalized groups. Examples include:

  • Asking a person of colour where they are really from, implies that they are not truly American.

  • Telling a woman that she is too emotional, reinforces gender stereotypes.

  • Jokingly saying to a disabled person that they are an inspiration for simply living their life.

Behavioural microaggressions

These are actions or behaviours that communicate negative messages towards marginalized groups. Examples include:

  • Crossing the street when encountering a Black person, reinforcing negative stereotypes about criminality.

  • Assuming that a person of Asian descent is good at math, reinforces stereotypes about academic achievement.

  • Refusing to accommodate a disabled person's needs, such as providing a wheelchair-accessible entrance.

Environmental microaggressions

These are subtle and indirect cues or signals that communicate negative messages towards marginalized groups. Examples include:

Displaying only images of white people in marketing materials reinforces the idea that only white people are important.

Playing music in a language that a non-native speaker does not understand, makes them feel excluded.

Using male pronouns to refer to a group of people that includes women, excluding and erasing women's presence. (Sue et al., 2007)


Stereotyping: This occurs when an individual is judged or treated based on stereotypes about their race, gender, or other personal characteristics. Examples might include assuming that a woman is not as competent as a man in a leadership position or assuming that someone is less qualified because of their race.

Tokenism: This occurs when an individual is included in the workplace solely to provide the appearance of diversity, without any meaningful engagement or opportunities for advancement. Examples might include hiring someone to fill a quota without providing them with the same opportunities for promotion or professional development as their colleagues.

Micro-invalidations: This occurs when an individual's experiences or identity are dismissed or invalidated. Examples might include ignoring or dismissing someone's concerns about discrimination or assuming that someone is not a "real" member of a particular group because of their appearance or background.

Micro-insults: This occurs when an individual is subjected to subtle or indirect insults or put-downs. Examples might include using language that marginalizes or excludes certain groups or making jokes at someone's expense based on their identity or background. (Jaluch HR & Training, n.d.)

Environmental microaggressions: This occurs when the workplace environment creates a hostile or uncomfortable atmosphere for individuals who belong to marginalized or underrepresented groups. Examples might include a lack of diversity in leadership positions, a lack of accommodations for individuals with disabilities, or a failure to address harassment or discriminatory behaviour.


Recognize and acknowledge your feelings

It is important to recognize and acknowledge the emotions you may be feeling in response to the microaggression. This may include feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, or disappointment. Allow yourself to feel these emotions and validate them.

Seek support

It can be helpful to seek support from friends, family, or a therapist. Talking to someone who understands and empathizes with your experiences can be validating and empowering.

Practice self-compassion

Be kind and compassionate to yourself. Acknowledge that experiencing microaggressions is not your fault and that you are not alone in your experiences. Practice self-compassionate self-talk and engage in self-care activities that you enjoy.

Engage in self-care activities

Engage in activities that promote relaxation and well-being, such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, exercise, or hobbies. These activities can help reduce stress and promote feelings of positivity and relaxation.

Set boundaries

It is important to set boundaries and protect yourself from further harm. This may involve speaking up and asserting yourself when a microaggression occurs, or avoiding situations or individuals that are likely to cause harm.

Connect with community

Seek out community and support networks that share similar experiences. This can help you feel less alone and more empowered to advocate for yourself and others. (Nair and Good, 2021)


1. Smith, A. (2020). Microaggressions: Definition, types, and examples. [online] Available at:

2. Sue, D.W., Capodilupo, C.M., Torino, G.C., Bucceri, J.M., Holder, A.M.B., Nadal, K.L. and Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62(4), pp.271–286. doi:

3. Jaluch HR & Training. (n.d.). Microaggressions in the workplace – should you be adding this to your D&I training? [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Mar. 2023].

4. Nair, N. and Good, D.C. (2021). Microaggressions and Coping with Linkages for Mentoring. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(11), p.5676. doi:

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