The Women in Medicine Badass Radioshow

Episode #15: Managing and Preventing Microaggressions Toward Women

Show Notes:

Hello my beautiful WIMBAs. How are you doing? I’ve been super busy. What else is new, right? Well, I’m working hard right now trying to get ahead of schedule because I’m planning on taking some serious time off this summer. But I don’t want to drop the ball. I’m putting in extra time and I’m convinced it’s worth it. It’s all about consistency, my friends!

Today I want to talk to you about an important topic and one that I’m sure you’re personally familiar with. This is something that perhaps doesn’t get spoken about a lot, so I wanted to bring it to the forefront. It’s a short episode, but it’s packed with everything you need to know about this — at least that’s what I think. And besides, I’m all about getting to the punch. So here we go. 

We are going to talk today about microaggressions. What? Have you heard this term? Probably, but even if you’re not familiar with the term, you’ve probably experienced the effects of it.

Microaggressions, according to Tiffany Alvoid, a TEDx speaker on the subject are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group.”

As Tiffany explained, microaggressions are rooted in stereotypes. Here’s the thing. We all have biases and we can all be guilty of a microaggression. That doesn’t mean it’s easier for us to take it when we are the ones on the receiving end. But it can help us understand how to handle these situations with others. 

The difference I want you to consider here first is that microaggressions are typically statements that people say that may not be meant to be harmful. It’s perhaps a joke like the ones that start with…”3 men walk into a bar….” These typically are about race or religion. The point here for the joke teller is to make you laugh. They don’t tell this to offend. So intention is an important consideration. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. In fact, I’ll talk about the importance of addressing microaggressions and how to go about it in a minute. But for now, I just want to make the distinction between these kinds of statements and the intention behind them and more aggressive statements that are in your face where it is much more apparent the person is a misogynist or a racist. 

The way people describe microaggressions is like a papercut. One papercut doesn’t hurt too bad, but when you’ve got them all over your body, it really hurts. Similarly, one microaggressive comment doesn’t make or break you, but typically marginalized groups hear these comments year after year and it’s the accumulation of these comments that Tiffany Alvoid says “takes a toll on your spirit.” 

Let’s take a look at some examples.

Microaggressions against women may include being asked to take notes in a meeting when none of your male colleagues are being asked to do so. It might be someone making an inappropriate comment  or a male taking your idea and running with it as if it were his own. It could be that you state your idea in a meeting and no one gets excited but then your male colleagues say the same thing 5 minutes later, everyone thinks it’s brilliant. There’s a clear bias here that men are smarter and we need to listen to them more. 

Being on the receiving end of microaggressions can feel triggering. You may not know how to respond, especially in a work setting where there is high pressure to fit the mold. It can feel uncomfortable to call someone out for being inappropriate. 

So let’s talk about some strategies that can help you if you are experiencing microaggressions in the workplace.

#1: It’s important to remain calm. If you become overly emotional, no one will take you seriously. It can turn the offender into a defensive stance which will only shut down the conversation. If you feel triggered and need to excuse yourself, do so and when you’ve calmed down, come back and deal with the situation.

#2. One thing to keep in mind that can help is to assume that the person’s intention is good. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. As I stated in the beginning of this episode, we all have subconscious cultural biases and by definition, this means we aren’t aware that they are there. They are programmed in. We just don’t understand their impact…yet.

Recognize that men often don’t mean to offend, but just aren’t aware of how their comments land. I saw one man say, “I cringe to think that the women in my life might feel condescended to and not feel empowered to address that with me.” So it’s good to come at the situation giving men the benefit of the doubt.

#3. That’s where you come in. Address the person in your calm manner and let them know that you found their comment offensive. Be sure to approach them delicately and know that if they are defensive, they may not know how to respond. It is probably just as awkward and uncomfortable for them, but they heard you. The key here is to share how you feel so they can learn about the impact of their comment. You can approach them with a problem-solving attitude and state an alternative solution to the situation that would be more appropriate.  If need be, create a script that you memorize in advance so you’re prepared with what to say in the moment. The point is that when you don’t say anything, they haven’t learned a lesson and will likely keep repeating this behavior. The impact on you is that you continue to accumulate the effects of multiple microaggressions over time, and you’ll likely mull them over in your mind and later on wish you could go back and address the situation differently. By speaking up you are also showing others that you are not a doormat. 

Now because we all have biases, I want to take a moment to also address how you can avoid contributing to this phenomenon yourself. So before you make a comment to someone comparing them or making a joke, consider how it may be perceived. Could it be offensive? Is it uplifting? Does it demonstrate respect and is it inclusive

This is a delicate dance we have to do as we navigate through life with other people who are different from us. We can’t always understand their experience, especially if they are marginalized, so it’s good practice to check in. And if you’re on the receiving end, speak up. Help put a stop to this. You’ll feel more empowered and people will respect you more. 

I think this is an important topic to have conversations about. I’m all about creating a safe space for women of all backgrounds to come together and feel supported and uplifted. I invite you to join my Tribe to Thrive so that you can be part of my community. Go to my website, to join and while you’re there, download the Mindset Mastery Starter Kit. I can’t wait. Have a wonderful week. I’ll see you next time. 

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