In advance of the meeting, send each participant the Microaggressions worksheet | PDF or a virtual meeting or print one for each participant for an in-person meeting.
For this activity you want participants to come to their own conclusion about how these microaggressions may become problematic and what they may do about it. When you take up the answers, you want to reinforce the ideas below.
- Asking, “Where are you really from?” after someone has told you where they’re from
- What to do instead: Nothing
- Assuming you know a person’s language or their racial identity based on their appearance
- What to do instead: Ask, “Do you speak any other languages?” or say nothing
- Assuming gender expression, mis-gendering (even if unintentional) or stating, “You don’t look trans.”
- What to do instead: Ask for the person’s preferred pronouns and honour them at all times
At their core, microaggressions can feel like a subtle form of discrimination. Yet they are usually indirect and unintentional and therefore unlikely to meet the criteria for discrimination under human rights legislation. We are not learning this today as a form of risk management. We are learning this today to improve civility and respect for everyone.
Microaggressions are often based on differences in skin colour, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation. Implicit bias can occur without face-to-face interaction. For example, the choice of images or written language can show bias. Microaggressions are more likely to occur through passive remarks and actions.
It’s completely possible that we could unintentionally engage in microaggressions. This is especially true when we’re unaware of our own implicit bias. We may think our comments or actions are harmless when in fact they can have a significant negative impact on others.
In your handout are a series of potential microaggressions. Consider how each action may feel like discrimination or cause someone to feel uncomfortable. Also decide what you could do or say instead to get the intended message across with less likelihood of offending. I will give you 3 minutes to work on this individually and then I’ll ask if anyone will volunteer some of their answers.
[After 3 minutes.]
Is there anyone who would like to share an idea from any of the examples that would be especially effective at avoiding a microaggression?
[After 3 minutes, or you have no more volunteers, move on. If no one wishes to share, you can use the examples in the instructions to give some suggestions. You can wrap up with the following.]
As you can see, some of these microaggressions are things that we might not identify as potentially harmful, but as the author Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we can do better.”
On the second page of your handout is a 3-step approach to help you respond if you witness bias or a microaggression in the workplace.
First you need to identify what you saw or heard and state it in a respectful way to those involved. For example, if you heard “where are you really from?” you might say, “they just told you.”
The second step is re-framing why you think the exchange may be hurtful to others without shaming the person who said it. In this example you might ask, “Why don’t you believe their first response?” Give people the benefit of the doubt. They may not be aware of their own bias.
The third step happens after the exchange to help everyone better understand the issue. This could be done privately with the person who spoke up or as a general education opportunity with an entire team without singling anyone out.
Find more activities like this at Team building activities.