Manifestation of Microaggressions
The -Degree Experience of Workplace
Microaggressions: Who Commits Them? How Do
Individuals Respond? What Are the Consequences?
Jennifer Young-Jin Kim, Duoc Nguyen, and Caryn Block
In this chapter, we explore how microaggressions manifest in the workplace.
We examine the types of microaggressions that occur, when microaggressions
are likely to occur in the employment cycle, who is likely to commit them, how
individuals respond to these microaggressions, and the negative consequences
of contending with microaggressions for both individuals and organizations.
Finally,we address what organizations can do to mitigate these negative eects.
While there has been much research on microaggressions, less is known about
the specic types of microaggressions that manifest in the workplace. And the
workplace is unique in a number of important ways. When microaggressions
occur during leisure activities, such as going to dinner, people can choose to
walk away from those who are committing the microaggressions. The work-
place is dierent. People cannot stop working without dire consequences. Fur-
thermore, during the work week, employees spend a majority of their wak-
ing hours at their jobs (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017). Thus, a substantial
amount of an individual’s time as an adult is spent with people at work, be it
coworkers, supervisors, or subordinates.
Moreover, for many people who are White, the workplace is the rst time
that they will interact closely with People of Color. In fact, there is an entire
industry on diversity and inclusion training to help organizations gure out
how to support people from dierent backgrounds to work more productively
together. In addition, overt forms of discrimination in the workplace are
illegal. Yet, despite these diversity and inclusion eorts and despite legal
mandates, organizations still struggle to include People of Color and women,
discrimination is still occurring, but in more subtle forms (e.g., Cortina, 2008;
Microaggression Theory: Inuence and Implications, First Edition. Edited by Gina C. Torino,
David P. Rivera, Christina M. Capodilupo, Kevin L. Nadal, and Derald Wing Sue.
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2019 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Jones, Peddie, Gilrane, King, & Gray, 2016). Subtle discrimination has been
dened as “actions that are ambiguous in intent to harm, dicult to detect,
low in intensity, and often unintentional but nevertheless deleterious to target
employees” (Jones et al., 2016, p. 1589). And the eects of subtle discrimina-
tion can be quite detrimental to employees, having a negative impact on their
work-related stress, job satisfaction, turnover intentions, and performance. In
fact, a recent meta-analysis by Jones et al. (2016) found that the experience
of subtle discrimination had similar deleterious eects on individuals and has
the experience of overt discrimination. Additionally, subtle discrimination
is likely to be a much more common experience for women and People of
Color than overt discrimination (Cortina, 2008). Yet, the vast majority of the
research on discrimination in the workplace has focused on understanding and
preventing overt forms of discrimination. Surprisingly, we are only beginning
to understand the subtle forms that discrimination can take in the workplace.
The Theory of Microaggressions can provide a useful framework for advanc-
ing our understanding of how subtle forms of discrimination may manifest
Racial microaggressions are dened as verbal or behavioral treatment that
conveys hostility toward members of various racial groups that manifest in
three dierent forms: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations (Sue,
Capodilupo, et al., 2007). Microassaults are explicit verbal or nonverbal mes-
sages meant to hurt the intended victim through behaviors such as name-
calling, avoidant behavior, or purposeful discrimination. Microinsults express
rudeness, insensitivity, or demean a person’s heritage or identity. Microinvali-
dations exclude or invalidate the psychological feelings, or the experiential real-
ity of a person.
More recently, microaggression research has been extended to include
women (Capodilupo et al., 2010) and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT)
people (Nadal, 2013). This research has revealed that while People of Color,
women, and LGBT individuals experience some of the same types of microag-
gressions, they also experience microaggressions that are unique based on
stereotypes held about a particular group. Thus, another way to categorize
types of microaggressions is whether they are general microaggressions or
stereotype-based microaggressions (Kim, Yu, Drinka, Nguyen, & Block, 2015).
General microaggressions are verbal or behavioral treatment that occurs regard-
less of social identity group membership. An example of a general microaggres-
sion is Denial of experiential reality suggesting that Asians, Blacks, Latina/os,
LGBT people, or women all share similar experiences within their respective
groups (Johnston & Nadal, 2010; Nadal, 2013; Rivera, Forquer, & Rangel, 2010;
Sue, Bucceri, Lin, Nadal, & Torino, 2007; Sue, Capodilupo, & Holder, 2008). On
the other hand, stereotype-based microaggressions are specic types of verbal
or behavioral treatment based on the content of stereotypes perceivers hold
about specic groups of people regarding their race, gender, or identity. Some
10 The 360-Degree Experience of Workplace Microaggressions
examples of stereotype-based microaggressions include Alieninownland,
suggesting that Asians and Latina/os are foreigners (Rivera et al., 2010; Sue,
Bucceri, et al., 2007); Assumption of criminality,suggestingthatBlacks(Sue,
Nadal, et al., 2008) and Latina/os (Rivera et al., 2010) are potential criminals,
prone to violent behavior; and Assumptions of traditional gender roles, suggest-
ing that women should occupy roles that are in accordance to traditional gender
roles (e.g., stay-at-home mom).
Microaggressions in the workplace take both of these forms. While some of
the microaggressions identied in the workplace represent general mistreat-
ment, others are based on stereotypes about dierent social identity groups,
particularly as they relate to workplace performance. Both types of microag-
gressions manifest in dierent phases of the employment cycle beginning with
the pre-employment phase.
Microaggressions in Pre-employment
The rst step in getting a job is applying for it. One way that microaggressions
occur in the workplace is in the pre-employment process through a discrep-
ancy in interview callback rates for job candidates with similar credentials but
racially dierent sounding names. Ideally, job candidates with similar creden-
tials on resumes should have an equal chance of getting a job interview. Despite
this ideal, not all resumes have similar chances of getting a callback for an inter-
view from recruiters or HR professionals. Racial information associated with
dierent names on resumes has been shown to have a signicant eect on call-
back rates. Audit studies use ctitious yet representative resumes in response
to real-job postings. These studies typically send out resumes with similar
credentials except for the variable of interest—name of the applicant. Audit
studies have shown that resumes with ethnic or racial names receive signi-
cantly lower callback rates for job interviews compared to resumes with white-
sounding names with similar credentials (Bertrand & Mullainathan, 2004;
Oreopoulos, 2011). For example, resumes with White-sounding rst names
(e.g., Emily or Greg) had a higher callback rate than resumes with African
American–sounding names (e.g., Jamal or Aisha; Bertrand & Mullainathan,
2004). In fact, resumes with White-sounding names were twice as likely to
receive a callback for a job than resumes with African American–sounding
names. Likewise, when resumes were manipulated with Asian versus White-
sounding forenames and surnames, resumes with White-sounding names (e.g.,
Greg Johnson) received a 39% higher callback rate than resumes with Asian-
sounding names (e.g., Hina Chaudhry; Oreopoulos, 2011). Similarly, resumes
with White-sounding names (e.g., John Martin) had a higher callback rate
even when compared to resumes with Asian-sounding surnames paired with
a White-sounding forename (e.g., Allen Wang; Oreopoulos, 2011).
Not only are resumes with racial and ethnic names disadvantaged in the
pre-employment stage, but so are resumes with female names (Moss-Racusin,
Dovidio, Brescoll, Graham, & Handelsman, 2012). In a randomized experimen-
tal design, faculty members from the biology, chemistry, and physics depart-
ments at several universities evaluated the resume of either a ctitious female
(Jennifer) or male (John) applicant for potential lab manager positions. The
results from this study revealed that both male and female professors evaluated
the resume with the female name lower on competency, hireability, mentoring,
and salary than the resume with the male name. The ndings of these audit
studies consistently demonstrate that having a racial, ethnic, or female name
disadvantaged individuals when applying for jobs.
Asian and African American job applicants seem to be aware of the lower
callback rates due to their racial or ethnic identity. In fact, research has spot-
lighted a technique used by Asians and African American job applicants to
make up for the discrepancy in callback rates—resume “whitening” (Kang,
DeCelles, Tilcsik, & Jun, 2016). Some of these “whitening” techniques include
changing a racial or ethnic name to a more neutral, “American-sounding” name
as well as omitting experiences that may signify minority status (e.g., leaving
out work experience in Chinatown or “toning down” experiences in Black Stu-
dents’ Association; Kang et al., 2016, study 1). These whitening techniques had
a substantial impact on callback rates. Asian and African Americans had higher
callback rates when they “whitened” their resumes, changed their names and
work experiences, (21% and 25%, respectively) compared to when they did not
“whiten” their resumes (12% and 10% respectively, Kang et al., 2016, study 3).
Even though recruiters or HR professionals may not see the people who have
submitted their resumes, subtle (and possibly unintentional mistreatment) can
still occur prior to the job interview. What is clear is that having an ethnic,
racial, or female name will result in a signicantly lower chance of being called
back for a job interview or being perceived as not competent or hirable. One
potential reason for lower callback rates is that recruiters and HR profession-
als do have stereotypes or biases toward people with racial, ethnic, or female
names, and these stereotypes or biases manifest when they select candidates
to be interviewed. This is an example of a stereotype-based microaggression.
Not only is it unfortunate that names can incite biases from recruiters and
HR professionals, but it is also unfortunate that organizations will miss out on
the opportunity to hire top talent because recruiters and HR professionals are
unaware of the biases that they are perpetuating.
Microaggressions in the Workplace
Beyond microaggressions at the pre-employment stage, People of Color and
women also have to contend with microaggressions at work once they are
10 The 360-Degree Experience of Workplace Microaggressions
hired. The few studies that have directly examined microaggressions in the
workplace have mostly taken place in clinical (Constantine & Sue, 2007; Sue,
Capodilupo, et al., 2007) and academic settings (Cartwright, Washington, &
McConnell, 2009; Pittman, 2012; Sharp-Grier, 2015). Two qualitative studies
shed light on the types of microaggressions that individuals contend with in
the workplace. One qualitative study on the experiences of executive Black
women found that they experienced ve types of microaggressions (Holder,
Jackson, &, Ponterotto, 2015). Environmental microaggressions were reected
in the underrepresentation of Black women in an organization that employed
nearly a thousand people, yet only a few Black women were in senior manage-
ment positions. Stereotypes of Black women were microaggressions based on
the stereotype of Black women as aggressive employees whose credentials were
consistently challenged. Universal experience comprised microaggressions that
reduced Black women to employees who know “all” other Black people within
the organization or have similar experience of the “typical” Black person. Invis-
ibility highlighted that when speaking during meetings Black women receive
unexpected body language from coworkers (e.g., head facing down and writing)
or simply little to no eye contact. Exclusion revealed when Black women were
not invited to social gatherings where appointments and opportunities were
discussed, leading to fewer ways for them to move up within the organization.
In another qualitative study, Asians reported experiencing seven types of
microaggressions in the workplace (Kim et al., 2015). Ascription of math
competency characterized microaggressions that treated Asians as employees
who only excel at math, statistics, or data analyses. Submissive/subservience
described the tendency to characterize Asians as passive or docile and there-
fore not having what it takes to be a leader. Invalidation of individual dierences
consigns Asian individuals to a broad set of homogenous people. Invisibility
described the experience of Asians who have been overlooked by non-Asians
in meetings or during one-on-one interactions. Inferiority describes how work
produced by Asian employees was viewed as substandard or not taken seri-
ously compared to work produced by their White counterparts (Kim et al.,
2015). Being singled out describes situations when an individual was singled
out because of his or her race. Demeaning cultural values and communications
style conveys that Asians cultural values and communication styles have been
viewed as less desirable than the dominant cultural values and communication
styles in the workplace.
These qualitative studies demonstrate that some of the microaggressions
that manifest in the workplace can be categorized as general microaggressions
emerging for both Black women and Asian employees (e.g., invisibility, univer-
sal experiences, and invalidation of individual dierences). Other microaggres-
sions were unique to employees based on their racial and gender identity and
the stereotypes held about that group, and can be categorized as stereotype-
based microaggressions (e.g., stereotypes of Black women, ascription of math
competency, and submissive/subservient). In addition, ndings from these stud-
ies suggest that microaggressions are a “360-degree experience” as they can
arise in all interactions that surround the employee: interactions from above
(supervisors), interactions from below (subordinates), and interactions from
the side (from peers and colleagues).
Microaggressions from above: supervisors
Qualitative research has shown that supervisors can be a primary source
of microaggressions in clinical settings (Constantine & Sue, 2007), academia
(Cartwright et al., 2009), and the workplace (Kim et al., 2015). In clinical set-
tings, supervisors oversee the cases that clinicians have taken on and help
clinicians to develop and rene their counseling skills through supervision
feedback. However, some types of feedback can be detrimental when laced
with microaggressions (Constantine & Sue, 2007). Qualitative interviews have
revealed that Black clinicians felt that White supervisors made stereotypical
remarks toward Black clinicians when the supervisors told the clinicians to “be
on time” for supervision because of the stereotype that Black people tend to be
on a dierent time orientation. In other instances, supervisors told Black clin-
icians that they were gifted at “multicultural stu.” These microaggressions by
supervisors reduced Black clinicians to the stereotype of people who are per-
petually late or selectively “gifted.”
Receiving recognition from supervisors is an important aspect of work as it
highlights the contributions of workers within an organization. Ideally, recog-
nition should be consistently provided to employees within the workplace.
However, if recognition is inconsistent when People of Color achieve similar
milestones as their White counterparts, this inconsistency can be viewed as a
microaggression. For example, one African American faculty member recalled
that the dean sent out recognition e-mails whenever awards were given or fac-
ulty articles were published (Cartwright et al., 2009). She recalled her antici-
pation of the dean’s e-mail when achieving these milestones, “She sends out
everyone else’s, but forgot to send mine out.” (Cartwright et al., 2009, p. 175).
Inconsistent recognition by supervisors may lead to employees to feel that
they have been snubbed, perceived as unimportant, or treated as invisible
Supervisors may also commit microaggressions by asking seemingly innocu-
ous questions. For example, inquiring of an Asian employee “Why are you so
quiet?” during a top-level meeting was perceived as a microaggression (Kim
et al., 2015). When people are quiet during meetings, it does not necessarily
mean that they are not engaged. Rather, listening to people who are experts in
their eld rather than speaking up or asking questions immediately could be
a sign of respect (Kim et al., 2015). These communication styles were some-
times viewed as decits or looked down upon. While supervisors may explic-
itly say that they are tolerant of other cultures, questions such as, “Why are you
10 The 360-Degree Experience of Workplace Microaggressions
so quiet?” may implicitly indicate that adhering to one’s culture is viewed as a
decit or is not tolerated by supervisors within the organization.
Microaggressions from below: subordinates
In the workplace, people must also contend with microaggressions from those
who are in junior roles. In academic settings, faculty members interact fre-
quently with students, who are also a source of microaggressions. Research
has shown that Black faculty members sometimes get mistaken for clerical or
administrative sta, often being asked by White students to make copies for
them (Pittman, 2012). White students also tended to address Black female fac-
ulty members as “Miss,” rather than “Doctor” (Cartwright et al., 2009). Sim-
ilarly, some Faculty of Color reported having their credentials challenged by
White students in the classroom. Snubs by students can also take the form of
course evaluation feedback. One professor, with almost two decades of expe-
rience in her eld, got feedback from a student regarding her intellect, “She
was more intelligent than I thought she’d be.” (Sharp-Grier, 2015, p. 29). This
remark incited feelings of powerlessness and anger in this faculty member, in
line with previous research that has found strong negative emotions such as
anger and resentment associated with experiencing microaggressions (Wang,
Leu, & Shoda, 2011).
Microaggressions from the side: coworkers
Coworkers and colleagues who are of a similar rank within the organization
have also been demonstrated to be a source of microaggressions. For example,
research has shown that Faculty of Color felt that they were limited by their race
within their department at the university due to treatment by their colleagues
(Cartwright et al., 2009). Faculty of Color felt that they had to consistently prove
their worth to their peers. For example, when one Faculty of Color wanted to
teach other courses beyond the topic of diversity, her peers asked whether she
was stepping outside her realm of “expertise.” Faculty of Color felt they were
treated by their peers as if they were the “diversity specialists,” rather than com-
plete faculty members with broader expertise (Cartwright et al., 2009).
In sum, microaggressions can occur in the process of screening resumes for
interview callbacks in pre-employment. Audit research has shown that hav-
ing an ethnic, racial, or female name results in less favorable callback rates and
perceptions prior to entering the workforce. Unfortunately, microaggressions
continue once People of Color and women enter the workforce. Qualitative
studies have shown that People of Color and women endure microaggressions
as a “360-degree” experience, contributed to by supervisors, subordinates, and
coworkers. These microaggressions include but are not limited to reducing tar-
gets to stereotypes such as being selectively “gifted,” quiet, or being mistaken as
the “help.” While acts of microaggressions can be eeting, they can have lasting
harmful eects on the targets in the short- and long-term.
Responding to Microaggressions in the Workplace
Experiencing microaggressions has been associated with a wide range of nega-
tive responses for the target. Some of the responses that are elicited are proxi-
mal, occurring immediately in the moment, while other responses are more dis-
tal, occurring sometime after the microaggression has occurred (Holder et al.,
2015; Wang et al., 2011). These responses can impact a number of dierent
domains, including the individual’s emotional and cognitive well-being, per-
formance ability, and social capital within the workplace (Ibarra, Ely, & Kolb,
2013; Steele, 1997; Wang et al., 2011). Left unchecked, these responses can lead
to harmful individual and organizational consequences, manifested as negative
individual job attitudes, and eventually suboptimal organizational outcomes.
In this section, we will discuss how seemingly innocuous microaggressions
can have a detrimental impact within organizations by focusing on individual
responses to microaggressions and the negative consequences associated with
Proximal Responses: Cognitive and Emotional Labor
When a person experiences a microaggression, he or she can respond in several
ways. A typical proximal, or immediate, response to a microaggression involves
the aective and cognitive labor that is exercised by an individual to make sense
of the microaggression. Dealing with microaggressions can take up the target’s
cognitive and emotional resources because he or she must rst stop to think
and determine if the slight is, in fact, a microaggression. This process is made
even harder due to the subtle and oftentimes ambiguous nature of microag-
gressions (Louis et al., 2016; Sue, Capodilupo, et al., 2007). Qualitative studies
have shed light on the thought processes that occur for individuals navigating
the aftermath of a workplace microaggression (Holder et al., 2015; Louis et al.,
2016). For example, Holder et al. (2015) documented an anecdote illustrating
the internal thought process of an individual grappling with how to handle a
I tend to play the scene over and over again, so before really coming to a
conclusion you start to do the process of elimination. Is it that I’m new
here?Isitthatthey’reallfriends?…Then you start to really begin to
isolate. Then once you get right down to it, this has to be an issue of
race. (p. 172)
This process is referred to as hypothesis testing through which the target
tries to determine the intent and meaning behind the microaggression (Holder
et al., 2015). Additionally, targets must also contend with the aftermath should
they choose to confront the behavior, wondering if their response would be
10 The 360-Degree Experience of Workplace Microaggressions
interpreted by others as being overly sensitive, that is, playing the “race card”
(Endo, 2015; Louis et al., 2016). Thus, experiencing a microaggression entails
navigating how to not only interpret the slight but also deal with whether to
respond and how that may be received by others. All of these thought pro-
cesses require cognitive labor and can be draining for the target who could
use that cognitive energy elsewhere (Lewis, Mendenhall, Harwood, & Huntt,
2013), such as performing work-related tasks. In fact, one study that examined
the negative eects of microaggressions on the target revealed that individu-
als perceived more negative proximal work outcomes for the target, such as
less ability to concentrate on the job and maintain strong relationships with the
perpetrator, as the severity of the microaggression increased (Kim et al., 2015).
This suggests that microaggressions do elicit proximal responses, which may
negatively impact one’s ability to perform on the job.
The constant pressure of negotiating microaggressions can also take a toll on
the person’s emotional state. In fact, when individuals feel that they have been
mistreated based on factors such as their race, they experience greater neg-
ative emotions, including anger, contempt, anxiety, and shame (Wang et al.,
2011). Unsurprisingly, individuals who are regular targets of microaggressions
reported experiencing stronger negative emotions: not only must they deal with
regular job-related stressors, but they also must contend with additional stres-
sors related to workplace microaggressions (Louis et al., 2016).
Distal Responses: Performance Domain
So far, we have focused on examples of proximal responses that occur imme-
diately following a microaggression. Some responses, however, can occur dis-
tally over time, and aect one’s ability to perform at an optimal level long-
term. When faced with a stereotype-based microaggression specic to one’s
group, individuals are likely to be reminded of negative stereotypes related to
their group, and consequently may experience stereotype threat, a known hin-
drance to performance (Bergeron, Block, & Echtenkamp, 2006; Steele & Aron-
As a response to this threat, some individuals may choose to overcompensate
in one way or another, going above and beyond what they would normally do
in their job to defy or live up to the stereotype (Block, Koch, Liberman, Merri-
weather, & Roberson, 2011). One way of defying a stereotype may take the form
of an African American college professor who feels the need to appear near per-
fect and produce impeccable work for fear that anything less would conrm the
negative stereotypes associated with African Americans as being lazy or intel-
lectually inferior, and perpetuate microaggressions against that group (Holder
et al., 2015; Louis et al., 2016).
Others, however, may choose to live up to the stereotype associated with
one’s group. For example, many East Asian cultures, including China, Korea,
and Japan, are known for their hard work ethic, epitomized by long workweeks
wherein professionals clock signicantly more hours than the average Ameri-
can (McCurry, 2015). Given this stereotype, Asian professionals may overcom-
pensate to fulll the perception of their hardworking ethic, thereby living up to
the high demands placed on Asians (Kim et al., 2015). This process can be cog-
nitively taxing as individuals constantly remain on high alert, taking on more
work, and expending additional energy to try and live up to the stereotype about
them. In fact, engaging in this “proving process” has been reported to diminish
self-condence and work performance for those who experience microaggres-
sions (Grin, Pifer, Humphrey, & Hazelwood, 2011), illustrating the detrimen-
tal eects associated with expending extra energy to meet or defy stereotypes
elicited by microaggressions.
Further exacerbating this problem, experiencing stereotype threat has also
been linked to feedback discounting (Roberson, Deitch, Brief, & Block, 2003).
Individuals who suer microaggressions and experience stereotype threat may
be more likely to doubt the accuracy and motivation of the feedback source,
thereby dismissing the feedback that they receive. This behavior puts individ-
uals at a disadvantage since research has discovered that they are less com-
pliant with directions for performance improvement (Banks, Stitt, Curtis, &
McQuater, 1977), which can hinder a person’s performance.
Distal Responses: Social Domain
Experiencing microaggressions can also harm one’s social capital within the
workplace. To succeed at work requires more than being a high performer, it
also involves having a strong social connection with potential sponsors and
mentors within organizations who can provide the necessary groundwork for
gaining traction, visibility, and social support within organizations (Ibarra et al.,
2013). Thus, having a strong social network is integral for succeeding within
organizations (Brass, 1985; Burt, 1997). In fact, people who are part of a broad
network that extends beyond their work group tend to be much more powerful
within organizations than others (Blau & Alba, 1982; Brass, 1985). Establishing
such a network can be a challenge for women and minorities in organizations
as those who are in positions of power, White males, tend to mentor those who
are similar to them (Ibarra, 1993). Given that women and minorities usually
have a much smaller set of “similar others” with whom to develop professional
relationships, their network is constrained even further (Ibarra, 1993).
Ethnic minorities and women, thus, face an uphill battle. They are limited
due to there being fewer members of their group with whom they can network
(Ibarra, 1993). Moreover, individuals who experience workplace microaggres-
sions are penalized given that their responses can isolate them even more. Indi-
viduals may have a harder time trusting the perpetrator who has committed a
microaggression, with many choosing to avoid or limit their future interactions
10 The 360-Degree Experience of Workplace Microaggressions
with the perpetrator, constricting their social network (Constantine, Smith,
Redington, & Owens, 2008; Holder et al., 2015; Louis et al., 2016). To illus-
trate, one academic mentioned how, wishing to avoid the constant onslaught
of racial microaggressions, he decided to avoid coming into the oce during
normal business hours:
It got to a point where I did not even want to be in the oce, because any
comment could come at any time …I’d go to my oce at 9:00 p.m. after
class and stay till midnight or 1[o’clock] doing work in a quiet, serene and
not hostile environment.
(Louis et al., 2016, p. 467)
One reason for this type of avoidant behavior stems from feeling vulnera-
ble or hopeless in trying to confront the perpetrator, contributing to feelings
of pessimism, and learned helplessness in which the targets are resigned to the
fact that subtle forms of discrimination will always exist (Hall & Fields, 2015;
Louis et al., 2016). As a result, the target nds it easier to disconnect from
colleagues who exhibit or even condone microaggressions (DeCuir-Gunby &
Gunby, 2016). While this may alleviate the immediate problem by limiting the
target’s exposure to the perpetrator, it hinders the target’s ability to develop a
strong social network, which could impede advancement opportunities (Ibarra,
1995; Mehra, Kildu, & Brass, 1998).
Consequences of Microaggressions
So far, we have discussed distal and proximal reactions to microaggressions in
the workplace. Left unchecked, these responses can lead to negative individ-
ual consequences that can eventually aect organizational outcomes. In fact,
experiencing microaggressions has been linked to lower job satisfaction as a
consequence of such responses such as detaching from the group or feeling
hopeless in confronting the aggressor as a way of dealing with microaggres-
sions (DeCuir-Gunby & Gunby, 2016). Perceptions of racial microaggressions
have also been found to aect the target’s work outcomes such as job satis-
faction, organizational commitment, and job-related stress (Kim, Nguyen, &
Block, 2017; Oermann, Basford, Graebner, DeGraaf, & Jaer, 2013).
In one of the rst studies to examine perceptions of microaggressions in
the workplace, Oermann and her colleagues (2013) looked at racial microag-
gressions committed by a White supervisor on a Black employee, varying the
severity level of the microaggression to examine how it inuenced observers’
perceptions of negative work-related outcomes experienced by the target.
Results showed that as the severity of the microaggression increased, so did the
perceptions of negative outcomes such as lowered motivation, job satisfaction,
organizational commitment, and higher intentions to quit (Oermann et al.,
2013), all of which constitute long-term consequences for the individual. This
study also found that as severity levels increased, so did the observers’ per-
ception of the intent of the perpetrator. Thus, as severity increased, partici-
pants viewed the supervisor as being more intentional and aware of his or her
In sum, dealing with microaggressions often leave minority group members
suspicious and distressed as they try and grapple with the intention behind
the microaggression (Sue, Capodilupo, et al., 2007; Sue, Nadal, et al., 2008).
Additionally, the added stress of experiencing and dealing with microaggres-
sions places undesirable constraints that interfere with or hinder an individ-
ual’s ability to achieve valued work outcomes, leading to job-searching behavior
and eventually, turnover (Cavanaugh, Boswell, Roehling, & Boudreau, 2000).
Therefore, workplace microaggression can be a key contributor to the loss of
top talent within an organization.
Moreover, microaggressions can extend their insidious eects beyond the
workplace. Experiencing microaggressions can take both a physical and psy-
chological toll on an individual (Sue, Capodilupo, et al., 2007). The constant
processing of and responding to microaggressions has been associated with
exhaustion, insomnia (Hall & Fields, 2015), binge-drinking (Blume, Lovato,
Thyken, & Denny, 2012), higher levels of stress (Smith, Hung, & Franklin, 2011),
negative emotions (Wang et al., 2011), and poorer mental health, including
higher anxiety and depression and lower self-esteem (Nadal, Grin, Wong,
Hamit, & Rasmus, 2014).
Furthermore, contending with microaggressions and its ensuing conse-
quences, including stereotype threat, can cause spillover. Specically, stereo-
type threat spillover refers to the situational predicament in which coping with
the ensuing stress leaves one in a depleted state, unable to engage in eortful
self-control in a variety of domains (Inzlicht & Kang, 2010). This phenomenon
is not surprising given how cognitively and emotionally exhausting it can be
to not only interpret the microaggression but also respond by trying to defy or
live up to the stereotype associated with one’s group (Grin et al., 2011; Holder
et al., 2015; Kim et al., 2015). According to the spillover theory, because one is
left depleted after dealing with the microaggression, one is less able to exert self-
control, resulting in more aggressive behavior when provoked, riskier decision
making, and poorer food choices (Inzlicht & Kang, 2010). It is clear that expe-
riencing microaggressions is anything but harmless to those on the receiving
end and that the negative impact stemming from microaggressions needs to be
acknowledged and addressed.
Why should practitioners be alarmed by all this? Within the context of the
organization, it is suggested that having employees who must endure such
inequities can lead to a number of negative outcomes, including lowered
motivation and morale, absenteeism, and turnover (Cocchiara & Quick, 2004).
10 The 360-Degree Experience of Workplace Microaggressions
Having women and minority talent leave the organization can lead to a drain
in the diversity pipeline, leaving organizations with a shortage of qualied indi-
viduals to move up the ladder. This can be costly to organizations. For instance,
many individuals choose to leave organizations that perpetuate subtle forms of
discrimination. Annually, over two million people leave their jobs because of
subtle forms of discrimination (Level Playing Field Institute, 2006). This exo-
dus contributes to a massive nancial drain as the ensuing estimated cost of
recruiting, selecting, and training to replace two million employees is approxi-
mately $64 billion (Burns, 2012).
Targets of microaggressions are not the only ones aected. Bystanders
or witnesses of microaggressions can also be negatively impacted. Although
bystanders may not be the direct subject of a microaggression, similar to
the eects of second-hand smoke, witnessing workplace microaggressions can
have lasting negative repercussions on the occupational health for bystanders
(Chrobot-Mason, Ragins, & Linnehan, 2013). In fact, individuals who sim-
ply witnessed microaggressions reported less satisfaction with their colleagues
and supervisors, poorer health, and lower self-esteem (Low, Radhakrishnan,
Schneider, & Rounds, 2007). Thus, bearing witness to acts of microaggressions
can also be stressful for observers, illustrating the far-reaching negative conse-
quences of microaggressions and highlighting why practitioners must work to
reduce the occurrence of such incidents.
Retaining a diverse workforce can also help an organization become more
competitive. Research has shown that companies in the top quartile for gender
or racial diversity are more likely to enjoy nancial returns above the industry
median (Hunt, Layton, & Prince, 2015). In fact, ethnically diverse companies
are 35% more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile, illustrating
the competitive advantage diverse companies have compared to those that are
less diverse. Thus, it would be in a company’s business interest to thoroughly
examine microaggressions experienced by its employees in an eort to reduce
the occurrence of such incidents.
Organizational Buﬀers against Microaggressions
What can organizations do to help reduce detrimental eects of workplace
microaggressions? Though this may seem like a considerable task, practi-
tioners can approach the challenge in a variety of ways. At the individual
level, practitioners can provide diversity training to reduce incidents of
microaggressions by raising people’s awareness of such incidents and trans-
mitting knowledge meant to increase participants’ multicultural competency
(Ferdman & Brody, 1996). Managers should be mindful to not only recognize
and reduce microaggressions among their direct reports but also check their
own tendency to ensure that they themselves are not the ones committing
microaggressions. Doing so, managers can create a safe climate for their team
in which people can also feel comfortable discussing microaggressions that
they may be experiencing.
It is integral that leadership also monitor employee sentiment by carefully
examining data from sources such as exit interviews, employee engagement
surveys, and focus groups to understand drivers of disengagement, particularly
around diversity and inclusion. Often, both quantitative and qualitative data
related to these dimensions will reect the perspectives of minority groups,
and can be a rich source of information for gauging the organization’s diver-
sity climate. To ensure that this happens, organizations should move toward
increasing the accountability of managers by including diversity management
into the manager’s competency model.
At the macrolevel, organizations should strive to create and maintain a pos-
itive diversity climate by establishing systemic equitable processes. One such
practice is resume blinding in which information from resumes such as gender
and race are removed. By blinding resumes, recruiters can bypass their biases
and hire more diverse candidates. Similarly, practitioners can reduce specic
stereotypes associated with certain jobs or roles. Stereotype-based microag-
gressions can induce stereotype threat when the stereotype is relevant to the
task (e.g., African Americans are good caretakers, Asians are good at math, or
women have good interpersonal skills). Research has shown that the eects of
stereotype-threat can be eliminated by refuting or diminishing the stereotype
relevance of the task (Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999) or underscoring similar-
ities shared by the stereotyped and nonstereotyped groups (Kray, Thompson,
& Galinsky, 2001). To do so, managers can emphasize characteristics necessary
for successful completion of a task or role that is not linked to group stereotypes
(Roberson & Kulik, 2007). For example, a manager could emphasize the orga-
nization’s holistic hiring practice by saying “Our function has a well-balanced
team thanks to our company’s hiring process” or highlight the skills necessary
for a job through statements such as “This project would benet from having
someone with your expertise in team building” rather than “You’d be great with
people because you’re a woman.”
Finally, organizations should work to promote awareness by encouraging
diversity training aimed at helping people identify and reduce microaggres-
sions. For example, individuals who display colorblind attitudes, dened as the
denial or distortion of race and racism (Apfelbaum, Norton, & Sommers, 2012),
are less likely to recognize racial microaggressions in the workplace, perpetuat-
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such attitudes, practitioners should implement training that demonstrates the
importance of adopting a color aware attitude, helping people acknowledge the
role of racial dynamics, and how they manifest in the workplace (Block, 2015).
By doing so, the organization can not only create an inclusive environment by
10 The 360-Degree Experience of Workplace Microaggressions
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