Micro-inequities in the workplace

A micro-inequity is a behaviour, not a thought or belief. It can be a comment, a gesture, a use of specific words, even a tone of voice. Rather than obvious, overt forms of discrimination, micro-inequities are subtle, small and seemingly insignificant – easily dismissed merely as petty slights, minor annoyances, or even just a lack of good manners.

But unfortunately, the results of micro-inequities are not trivial. They lead employees to feel unwelcome, unsupported, devalued, marginalised and invisible in their own workplace. Over time they accumulate to overtake the confidence and commitment of the targeted person who could come to withdraw their creative energy and even resign from the organisation.

Micro-inequities Vs. Micro-aggressions

Simply put, a micro-inequity is a comment or action that demeans or marginalises the recipient, whereas a micro-aggression is a comment or action that negatively targets a marginalised group of people. For example:

  • Forgetting a more junior member of staff’s name (micro-inequity)
  • Always mispronouncing someone’s name (micro-inequity)
  • Showing up late to a meeting or leaving early because of your schedule (micro-inequity)
  • Disregarding someone’s comments during a group discussion or meeting (micro-inequity)
  • Complimenting a person born and raised in the UK on their English simply because they are not white (micro-aggression)
  • Deliberately not using a transgender person’s preferred pronouns (micro-aggression)
  • Using outdated and offensive terminology, such as, “That’s so gay” (micro-aggression)

Three key points about micro-inequities:

1. These behaviours are driven by unconscious beliefs. Most people are unaware of what they truly believe about others. Often people do not take the time to think about their beliefs about people who are of a different race, religion, generation or gender. Only when diversity training or coaching about diversity is introduced do many people reflect on their beliefs about others.

2. People promote and surround themselves with those they trust. People trust those they like. People like those who seem the most like themselves. It is important to look beyond the comfort zone to ensure fair behaviour.

3. Micro-inequities are subtle and often only picked up by the person who is experiencing the impact of the perpetrator’s behaviour. Micro-inequities are often unintentional by the perpetrator and are easy for others to discount as not being important. Often the victims of micro-inequities who make a complaint to HR are told not to make a big deal out of it. The recipient is judged as being too touchy and oversensitive. If the complaint is dismissed and the victim persists regarding in the issue, they may be seen as angry, oversensitive, or a bad ‘fit’ for the organisation.

Creating an inclusive culture

Awareness is the key to avoiding micro-inequities. Although micro-inequities are negative, it is worth remembering that the same brain circuitry is highly attuned to positive gestures. So, with self-awareness, people can not only overcome micro-inequities but also become role models and spread conscious inclusion with the result of improving the working culture.

Once an awareness exists, micro-inequities are most likely to happen when decisions are made quickly and under pressure or when someone is multitasking. In such situations it’s important that thinking is slowed down to ensure negative micro-behaviours do not return to leave any team member feeling excluded.

Here are a few suggestions as to how an awareness of micro-behaviours can help to create an inclusive culture:

  • When welcoming a new member within a group setting, physically step back to enable them to have a space in the group, or draw up a chair so they can be included
  • Use affirmative gestures and smile when encouraging someone from a minority to speak up
  • Make supportive comments when others share comments in a meeting or discussion
  • Take the time to truly listen
  • Thank all individuals for their contributions
  • When asking for someone’s help or their opinion, convey trust by using positive body language and active listening techniques – lean slightly towards them, use eye contact, paraphrase and take notes so they know what they are contributing is important to you
  • If you notice micro-behaviours are persisting in the team, provide feedback about the effect on individuals and their impact on the team

These suggestions are micro-affirmations; the simplest definition of this is to treat people like they matter. Just as micro-inequities affect people negatively, small inclusive gestures (micro-affirmations) can change a person’s entire experience and perception for the better.

To find out more about how we can help you create an inclusive culture in your workplace, contact us today on 01932 874944.