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Empower yourself and others against Microagressions

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Where do you really come from? Is a question I’m repeatedly asked in a variety of situations. These microaggressions are usually directed at marginalised identity groups, that transcends backgrounds and professional levels, encompassing insensitive statements, questions, or assumptions that impact individuals physically and mentally. Research demonstrates the profound effects of seemingly harmless remarks over one’s career, can manifest as increased rates of depression, prolonged stress, and physical ailments like headaches and high blood pressure. Recognising and addressing microaggressions, along with cultivating awareness in everyday speech, represents a transformative journey that is essential for mental well-being in the workplace.

Executive coaching can support organisation and professionals develop inclusive workplace cultures by supporting each of us to confront biases and foster intentional communication rather than fear. Establishing environments where all can thrive demands continuous learning and growth, an area where executive coaching plays a pivotal role.

Often unnoticed by the perpetrator, microaggressions can occur in workplace interactions, targeting various aspects of an individual’s identity. These subtle yet hurtful actions, including insensitive remarks or assumptions that are commonly directed at marginalised groups but can affect anyone, irrespective of background or professional status. For instance, a microaggression towards a Black woman might involve statements like “You’re different from other Black people I know,” while for a white male, it could manifest as “You never have to worry about fitting in.” Rooted in damaging stereotypes, microaggressions simplify individuals based on their identity, perpetuating harmful assumptions.

A recent study by Mental Health First Aid England has shed light on concerning trends in workplace culture and the prevalence of microaggressions within the United Kingdom. Drawing from the responses of 2,000 employees, the research reveals that a significant portion of employees nearly one-third have experienced instances of microaggressions or discriminatory behaviour from their managers within the last six months.

Moreover, the study emphasises striking disparities in experiences among different demographic groups. For instance, 66 percent of employees aged 18-34 reported facing exclusionary acts from managers, compared to 38 percent among those aged 45-64. Additionally, while 47 percent of individuals of White British background recognised instances of discriminatory behaviour from their managers, this figure rises to 57 percent for Asian or Asian British workers and 72 percent for Black or Black British employees. These findings stress the urgent need for organisations to address systemic biases and foster inclusive workplace environments.

Executive coaching can play a pivotal role in combatting microaggressions within the workplace, fostering awareness and providing strategies for effective responses. As microaggressions can infiltrate various workplace interactions, from the hiring processes to daily communications, heightened sensitivity and vigilance in language use are essential in professional environments.

Executive coaching can increase the awareness of microaggressions and inevitably leads to the recognition of their occurrence and the dilemma of whether and how to intervene. When confronted with a microaggression, individuals coached in responding effectively are equipped with various approaches. They consider the appropriateness of addressing the issue in the moment, assessing the environment to ensure a conducive space for dialogue, or opting for a private conversation to facilitate open and authentic communication.

Navigating responses to microaggressions involves evaluating the relationship dynamics with the perpetrator, acknowledging personal familiarity with the subject matter, and recognising the impact versus intent of the remark. Executive coaching emphasises the importance of fostering a culture where microaggressions can be addressed constructively, highlighting the disparity between intention and impact to promote understanding and growth among colleagues. Through informed action and dialogue, executive coaching empowers individuals to create inclusive workplaces where microaggressions are handled and resolved sensitively.

About the author: Marie Loney is the founder of Glow Consultancy London. She is an experienced executive coach, trainer and speaker. Throughout her career Marie has worked in beauty, fashion, education, medical communications, pharma, charity and banking supporting leaders, teams and organisations navigate stress management, communication and resilience. Her practice is solution focused, supporting organisations to implement initiatives that positions wellbeing at the core of professional and organisational development, fostering a healthy work-life balance.

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