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Reducing harm in the workplace

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 Defining microaggressions 

While the concept of microaggressions became more culturally predominant in recent years, the term itself has been in use for several decades. Originally defined by Harvard psychologist Chester Pierce, microaggressions "describe interactions, whether intentional or not, that convey in subtle but powerful ways, negative messages about specific groups of people." (Ackerman-Barger & Jacobs, 2020) In more recent years, psychologist Derald Wing Sue expanded on the original definition by breaking it down into the following subcategories:

  • Microassaults: explicit attacks directed at a person or group of people;
  • Microinsults: generally unconscious or unintentionally harmful statements about a person which are based in cultural stereotypes and prejudices about marginalized groups;
  • Microinvalidations: statements that minimize or mischaracterize the lived experiences and histories of people from marginalized groups. (Ackerman-Barger & Jacobs, 2020)

In the same book, Sue outlines the real, material impacts of microaggressions, which lead to:

  • workplace burnout and breakdowns in retention;
  • mental illness, including depression and anxiety;
  • cognitive load that harms productivity and workplace relationships.

Further, it is arguable that microaggressions perpetuate stereotypes and prejudices when they are left unchallenged. For that reason, workplaces and workers ought to be prepared to identify microaggressions and know what to do when microaggressions arise (Sue, 2010). The following resources can assist with the identification of microaggressions, how to engage when microaggressions occur, and how to prevent their reoccurrence in the future.

 Resources for defining microaggressions

 Resources for responding to microaggressions