Unconscious Bias and Microaggressions- Start with correctly defining the problem

When it comes to tackling unconscious bias, microaggressions are a key component of this problem that have to be addressed. Let’s first start by defining unconscious bias in the workplace and then look at the role that microaggressions play in perpetuating this malignant interpersonal disease.

“I define unconscious bias in the workplace as: career-stifling behavior or decisions driven by negative societal conditioning towards minorities or marginalized groups. It also includes any conditioned negative views towards a majority that drive negative perceptions and behavior in the workplace towards that group—though this part is rarely openly acknowledged. All stem from societal conditioning and past experiences”.

Microaggressions are commonly defined as subtle, conscious and unconscious slights towards minorities or marginalized group members from majority members based on negative stereotypes. An example could be surprise at how well-spoken a minority/marginalised group member is voiced as: “ you’re so articulate”, or always asking a co-worker with a disability if they need help.

My issue with articles and authors on microaggressions is that like articles and authors discriptions of unconscious bias in the workplace  their definitions of the problem are inaccurate and for the most part they are imbalanced. This is because they never address the fact that minorities and marginalised groups can (understandably) misinterpret perfectly normal behaviour as microaggressions. This would make the traditional victim the perpetrator and the traditional perpetrator the victim in that moment. Whilst Microaggressions aimed at minorities and marginalised groups are way more prevalent. The fact of the matter is that minorities can misinterpret microaggressions too. When that happens in the moment it invokes a negative response from the majority victim which just perpetuates the problem by wrongly confirming to the minority their suspicion of microaggressive behaviour and unconscious bias. Therefore, it is dishonest, but more importantly counter-productive to seek to address the problem of microaggressions and wider career stifling unconscious bias from a one-sided perspective. When we do, it impairs our wisdom and we come up with wrong answers, adopt ‘a state of alert’ and simply reinforce the biggest unconscious bias of them all: the majority are ‘guilty perpetrators’ by default and minorities are a bunch of ‘hapless victims’ solely reliant on the majority to change for their career progression. Both are extremely damaging.

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