How to react to a colleague’s microaggression
Should you intervene when one coworker is being insensitive toward another?
By Jane L. Risen and George Wu – The fourth installment of our quarterly Business Practice feature invites you to imagine witnessing a slight in a group meeting.
Greg’s request that Becky take notes is commonly termed a microaggression, described by Columbia’s Derald Wing Sue and his coresearchers as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative . . . slights and insults.”
The term, as coined by the psychiatrist Chester Pierce, refers to an action that denigrates a racial group; but in this case, Greg’s request can be seen as disparaging Becky and women more generally.
Scholars such as Joan C. Williams of the University of California, Hastings College of the Law have observed that women get “stuck” disproportionately with administrative tasks, such as taking notes, ordering lunch, and scheduling meetings, and research by Carnegie Mellon’s Linda Babcock and Laurie Weingart, Maria P. Recalde of the International Food Policy Research Institute, and Lise Vesterlund of the University of Pittsburgh has found women are more likely to be assigned or volunteer to take on “nonpromotable work.”
Interpersonal conflict is seldom pleasant, and this scenario is especially tricky because Greg may not have meant to slight Becky. A confrontation, particularly a public one in front of other product managers, could therefore lead Greg to be defensive.
Finally, the situation is complex strategically: Should you speak to Greg now or later?
Is a subtle approach or a more direct confrontation appropriate?
Should you talk about the specific behavior or provoke a larger conversation about culture and norms? more>