Recognizing and Managing Micro-Inequities at Work

Four people sit together on a wooden bench and the person at the center of the group is holding the laptop on their lap. Each person is reacting to what they see on the laptop screen.

What is a Micro-Inequity?

Micro-inequities are subtle discriminatory comments or actions targeted towards members of marginalized groups. They are often manifestations of implicit bias, unintentional preferences for a group based on their social identity.

Sometimes these biases show up in everyday language through interactions that are deeply hurtful to those affected while going unnoticed by the person carrying them out — this is part of why micro-inequities can be so difficult to manage.

Anima Leadership has a number of racial literacy courses and coaching programs to help you learn to recognize (and avoid) micro-inequities in your workplace. Learn more about our Training options or keep reading below.

Why Does Addressing Micro-Inequities Matter?

Being chronically underestimated, devalued and excluded is exhausting. Humans are social creates and belonging to groups is a need as basic as our drive for food, water or shelter.

When the slight impact of a micro-inequity is felt hundreds of times, it can make us feel like we don’t belong. At work, micro-inequities can make means staff feel unhappy, anxious, excluded, or even fearful, which in turns leads to a workplace with high turn-over, little collaboration and less productivity.

Four colleagues are gathered around a table and appear to be discussing a document in front of them.

Examples of micro-inequities in the workplace and beyond

We’ve all had moments of feeling excluded or isolated, but some people are constantly targeted because of their social status. Women of colour have long been the subject of social bias, and in our Anima Café Women of Colour Breaking Barriers Anima CEO Annahid Dashtgard and author Deepa Purushothaman shared their own experiences. These true stories capture examples of micro-inequities faced by both.

Story One: Annahid

A few years ago, Annahid arrived on set to speak on a TV panel. Wearing a formal dress and heels, she waited excitedly for the program to begin alongside her officer manager James who was dressed in casual clothes and a backpack. Despite the difference in their appearance, three separate producers introduced themselves to James instead of Annahid, assuming that he must be the talent.

As each producer entered the room, they made the same assumption: that it must be the white man in a position of power and not the woman of colour. That it was the James who deserved their respect and attention and not Annahid. These repeated micro-inequities left Annahid feeling deflated and unimportant.

Story Two: Deepa

Deepa Purushothaman is a woman of colour who made senior partner at her consulting firm at an early age. She would often find herself leading people 10+ years her senior. But people would frequently dismiss the possibility that she could be in charge, even requesting to speak with the senior partner in the meeting — with her standing right there.

“The first couple of times it doesn’t bother you,” she said, “but if it’s happening four or five times a day it does start to eat at you. What is it about me that they don’t see me as a leader?”

How to Manage and Respond to Micro-Inequities

Managing micro-inequities at work can be challenging because it requires difficult conversations. Sometimes we know what was said was wrong, but we’re not sure what to say — so we let it go. Anima Leadership’s Brave Conversations course can help you learn to prepare emotionally and strategically for a brave conversation, assess the potential risks and benefits, and consider the importance of open communication before deciding if it is the right step to take. In the meantime, instead of staying silent, familiarize yourself with common micro-inequities and practice your response so you’re ready the moment it happens.

Try to come up with some prepared responses to the scenarios below (click the arrow on each scenario for some ideas).

Scenario 1: Someone bypasses a marginalized person in conversation.

Try saying:

“That’s actually my area of responsibility.” or “You should really be talking to (colleague) for that.”

Scenario 2: Someone tries to take credit for an idea from a marginalized colleague.

Try saying:

“That’s the same solution I proposed earlier.” or “I appreciated when (colleague) shared that idea in our last discussion.”

Scenario 3: Someone repeatedly interrupts or talks over a marginalized person.

Try saying:

“I’d like to finish my thought.” or “It seems like (colleague) wasn’t done speaking, I’d like to hear what they have to say.”

Scenario 4: Someone makes an offensive joke about a marginalized group.

Try saying:

“That’s not funny.” or “That comment is inappropriate.”

Dealing with micro-inequities doesn’t need to involve aggressively challenging others’ behaviour. It can be as simple as noticing and commenting on these moments as they come up, whether they are happening to you or to your colleagues.

Beyond that, we can advocate for cultural competency in the workplace to promote lasting change. Building inclusive workplaces requires awareness of how identity affects how our colleagues, employees and supervisors are treated…because once we’re aware, we can begin to make a difference.

How do we Make More Equitable Workplaces?

Equity-based education will always be the best way to build more inclusive workplaces for all employees, regardless of their identities. By learning how to recognize and deal with micro-inequities you’ll be better equipped to promote a truly equitable workplace.

For more on how you can transform your workplace into a more equitable environment integrating these best practices and more, join our Deep Diversity Course. It’s available as online self-directed training, instructor-led group webinars and fully customizable in-house courses. Register today to take the next step on your equity journey!

Anima Leadership

Anima Leadership believes in a compassionate approach to racial justice where everyone can feel like they matter and belong.

Since 2007, we have worked with thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations teaching, consulting and coaching transformative change. Our award-winning training programs and innovative measurement tools will help us journey with you from diversity basics to advanced belonging.

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