Addressing microaggressions can help create an inclusive work environment.

Addressing Racial Microaggressions in Business

Effective Communication is Needed for Inclusion in the Workplace

“Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

Does this sound familiar? The concepts of otherness and not belonging were prominent politically this month in America, which has led me to think about microaggression in business, as well.

The quote above came from The Philadelphia Tribune correspondent Avery Young’s coverage of Dr. Derald Wing Sue’s keynote presentation, “Disarming Racial Microaggressions: Microintervention Strategies for People of Color, White Allies and Bystanders” at our client Episcopal Community Services’ (ECS) Forum on Opportunity and Justice (FOJO) last October.

Dr. Sue, a professor of psychology and education in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, dissected microaggression at the annual gathering that addresses perspectives on poverty, power and oppression. He is a pioneer in the field of multicultural psychology, microaggression theory, psychology of racial dialogues, multicultural counseling and therapy and the psychology of racism and anti-racism.

Additionally, Dr. Sue is the author of Overcoming our Racism: The Journey to Liberation (2003) – a book that confronts white Americans in regard to privilege, inherent biases and unintentional oppression of persons of color.

So, what reminded me of Dr. Sue’s keynote and microaggression recently? A meeting I attended at the new Comcast Technology Center as a member of a three-state regional host committee for a global life sciences conference coming to Philadelphia in June.

Our Comcast host was a dynamic, young Asian gentleman. It was when the meeting chair recognized him that I thought about microaggression. His introduction was the classic scenario where one attempts to pronounce another person’s name correctly but ends up butchering it, and subsequently laughs it off.

Like the majority of these situations, there was no malicious intent. Learning how to say someone’s name correctly can be tricky! However, having one’s last name mispronounced and shrugged off repeatedly can cause the person to feel different than and separated from the people surrounding them.

As with all matters of conduct in business, I’m very sensitive. Hello! I’ve been a public relations counselor for a very long time. What struck me is that despite my experience and insight on microaggression I’ve gained from ECS, I didn’t discuss the situation with the host after the meeting. Because I know the host very well, and that the mispronunciation was truly an innocent mistake, I let it go instead of addressing it.

“Our studies indicate that when a racist comment or action occurs, most of the people around remain silent,” Dr. Sue said in his keynote presentation. After doing some thinking, I realized that (other than this blog) I guess I was one of them. Since then, I’ve vowed to change that – starting by talking about microaggressions with my husband before he led a program where he was going to be charged with reading a long list of multicultural names.

Additionally, I’m looking forward to working with ECS as they gear up for FOJO 2019, scheduled for October 24. Open to the public, the Forum provides attendees with important tools to engage with the intermingling issues inherent in poverty and initiate practical efforts to improve policy and practice.

Cultural competency is a hallmark of ECS’ incredible work. That’s what I love about our business – we get to be inspired by the organizations we support and learn things that are truly worth knowing, like how microaggression can hinder our efforts to be one country for all. – Lisa Simon

Spryte Communications