Here’s how women are affected by microaggressions at work
Oct 11, 2023, 5:00 PM
A new report on women in the workplace found 78% of women have said they experience “microaggressions” at work.
What are microaggressions?
“Sometimes they’re called microinequities,” Dr. Susan Madsen, founder and director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project said. “They’re subtle things, things like interrupting. What we know from the research is that when women are in meetings with more men at the table, they are interrupted much more than men are interrupted. They’re discounted in many ways.”
Madsen offered an example.
“You hear this from almost every woman — they’ve been in a meeting, and they share an idea, and people don’t tune in,” she said. “Then, 10 minutes later, a man says a similar or exactly the same idea, and people respond with ‘Oh, that’s a great idea!'”
How are women affected by microaggressions?
“It can also happen with eliciting input,” Madsen explained. “If you are going to men mostly and trying to get input, that’s a microaggression of sorts. You’re not asking women for input. They have to be more pushy.”
Another example is just being excluded. Whether it’s being excluded from lunch or even hallway conversations, it makes you feel like you’re not valued.
“There is research on multi-tasking,” Madsen said. “Sometimes you will multi-task during conversations with some people, but when certain people come up, we give them our full attention. Research says we tend to multitask with people we don’t have as much respect for.”
Have you ever met someone or are talking to someone at a gathering, and they are looking over your head to see if there is someone more interesting in the room? Yep, that’s a microaggression.
“Just your body language can fit this category,” said Madsen. “Eye contact. The way you use your hands. Often we don’t know we’re treating certain people differently.”
Madsen also pointed to the inappropriate questions that women get.
“Women running for office in Utah get absolutely different questions from men. ‘How can you juggle it?’ ‘How can you do this to your children?’ ‘How can you leave your children?’ Men don’t get these kinds of questions.”
Death by 1,000 cuts
Research shows that microaggressions contribute to depression and health problems, including high blood pressure.
“When you have stress, when you know you’re working hard and your ideas are not getting heard, and you feel discounted, you feel like you don’t belong,” Madsen explained. “That stress rolls over into your health in life and your overall well-being.”
Microaggressions also lower productivity.
“You can do it for only so long, but if you’re in a workplace environment where you feel microaggressions or microinequities, it can really impact you,” Madsen said. “It’s related to job turnover. I’ve had CEOs here in Utah say, ‘Hey, we hire women, but they don’t stay. How can we get them to stay?’ And I say to them, ‘Describe the culture of your organization.’ And it’s so masculine, but it’s invisible. Women will say, ‘I don’t know what it was, but I just didn’t belong.’ Although many of them do know what it was.”
Critics call this “macrononsense“
There are critics of this research, those who claim there are no such things as microaggressions. Madsen responded to those critics.
“The research has been going on in this area for decades,” she said. “We know now that this is challenging. When a woman experiences being ignored or her ideas being taken by other people, that’s a real thing that has consequences.”
Some women have told Madsen that they experience microaggressions every day. They call it “everyday sexism.”