In some cases, workplace discrimination or harassment can be overt. Maybe a coworker is very clear that they are biased against people in a certain ethnic group or those with a certain national origin, for example. Maybe an employer clearly discriminates against people of a specific gender, refusing to hire them even when they’re well qualified.
But this is no longer the norm. Employers are required by law not to discriminate or harass their employees, and most businesses operate as equal-opportunity employers. That doesn’t always mean that discrimination and harassment don’t take place, though. It just means that it looks different. One example is the rise of microaggressions.
In essence, a microaggression is something that targets a person in a marginalized group, even if it does so in a more subtle fashion.
For example, maybe someone told you that they were surprised that you were so educated and articulate. It sounds like a compliment, but are they really just implying that someone with your ethnic background wouldn’t be educated and articulate? This could happen if you’re a child of immigrants, for instance. People may imply that they are shocked that you speak English, even though you grew up in the United States and have spoken it all your life.
Microaggressions can be very damaging to a person’s career and they can create a hostile work environment. Even though they are often subtle, there are legal steps that workers can take when they feel they are being discriminated against. If you find yourself in this position, be sure you know about all of your legal options.