As a First Nations woman, working in a corporate environment, I am constantly asked to guide clients on how to respond to challenging situations between Western and First Nations protocols and responsibilities, but also tackling unconscious biases. A study by the Australian National University in 2022, found three out of every four people hold a racial bias against Indigenous Australians, with WA and QLD recording the highest levels of implicit bias.
For many First Nations employees, being the bridge that holds community and the organisation that we work for together, can result in burn out and job dissatisfaction. But what do our workplaces do to support, stand strong as ally’s and foster honest conversations and inclusivity? How do they create a safe space to call out poor behaviour?
In today's diverse workplaces, fostering an inclusive environment is paramount for both employee well-being and organisational success. Microaggressions, subtle and often unintentional acts that marginalise individuals based on their identities, can undermine this goal. For Indigenous individuals, experiencing microaggressions can be particularly distressing due to their historical context and ongoing struggles for equality. I firmly believe in creating workplaces where everyone feels respected and valued, to be their true authentic self.
Microaggressions are subtle, often unconscious (but not always!) , expressions of bias or prejudice that reflect discriminatory attitudes toward marginalised groups. These interactions can take various forms, including verbal, nonverbal, and environmental cues. While they may not be intended to cause harm, their cumulative effects can be detrimental to individuals' self-esteem, job satisfaction, and overall mental well-being.
Effects of Microaggressions in the Workplace 1. Undermined Confidence: Constant exposure to microaggressions can erode an individual's self-confidence and self-worth, making it harder for them to contribute effectively to their team. 2. Emotional Toll: Microaggressions can lead to feelings of frustration, anger, and isolation. Over time, this emotional toll can lead to burnout and decreased job satisfaction. 3. Reduced Productivity: A workplace where microaggressions are prevalent might experience decreased collaboration and communication among team members, ultimately impacting productivity and innovation. 4. Attrition: Employees who face persistent microaggressions are more likely to consider leaving their jobs, leading to higher turnover rates and associated recruitment costs.
Strategies to Combat Microaggressions 1. Raise Awareness: Educate all employees about microaggressions, their impact, and the importance of fostering an inclusive workplace. Training sessions, workshops, and open discussions can help create a shared understanding. Also, celebrate diversity through events, holidays, and cultural awareness initiatives. By embracing different backgrounds, you'll create a stronger sense of community and belonging.
2. Lead by Example: Managers and leaders play a crucial role in setting the tone for workplace behaviour. For those that are interested, in how/why…one of my favourite resources is “The Fish rots from the head” by Bob Garratt. Leaderships commitment to addressing microaggressions and promoting inclusion will inspire others to follow suit. You can’t be what you can’t see, and we all know that internal culture and tone is set from the top. Be authentic, and demonstrate the behaviour you expect! Also it is critical that you ensure diverse representation at all levels of your organisation, including leadership positions. Having Indigenous individuals in decision-making roles can help shape policies that actively combat microaggressions and promote inclusivity, and view actions and decisions through a different lens. When Indigenous voices are heard and respected, it contributes to a more inclusive workplace where microaggressions are less likely to occur.
3. Establish Clear Policies: Develop and communicate clear anti-discrimination and whistleblower policies that outline a zero tolerance for such behaviour. Ensure employees know where to report incidents and provide them with a safe space to do so. There should be no fear of job security or retribution, in calling out poor behaviour. By holding individuals accountable for their actions, you send a powerful message that discriminatory behaviour will not be tolerated.
4. Encourage Open Dialogue: Create a culture where employees feel comfortable discussing their experiences without fear of retaliation. Consider regularly scheduling diversity and inclusion forums AND cultural competency training. Remember, it is a journey, not a destination. The behaviour you’re willing to walk past, is the behaviour you’re willing to accept.
5. Provide Resources: Offer resources such as books, articles, and online courses that help employees learn about different cultures, perspectives, and the impact of microaggressions. By increasing understanding, you can counter harmful stereotypes and prevent well-intentioned but misguided comments.
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela
6. Review Hiring Practices: Ensure that recruitment and selection processes are fair and unbiased. This includes using diverse interview panels and eliminating language or criteria that might inadvertently discriminate.
7. Mentorship and Allyship Programs: Establish mentorship programs that connect individuals from marginalised groups with experienced colleagues. Implement allyship programs that encourage employees to stand up against microaggressions when they witness them. Allies can play a pivotal role in creating a supportive environment by intervening, offering support to the target, and educating their peers.
8. Feedback and Accountability: Encourage employees to provide feedback on the workplace environment and ensure that managers address concerns promptly. Hold individuals accountable for their behaviour, regardless of their position within the organisation. Regularly check in with employees to gauge their experiences and feelings within the workplace. Anonymous surveys or confidential channels can provide insights into any ongoing issues related to microaggressions. This data can guide targeted interventions and adjustments to your strategy.
Combatting microaggressions in the workplace requires commitment, education, and an ongoing effort to promote inclusion. By recognising the impact of these subtle biases and taking meaningful steps to address them, organisations can create a healthier and more productive environment where all employees can thrive. Remember, the journey toward eliminating microaggressions begins with a single step, but the positive impact can be immeasurable.
IPS Executive Director
Jahna Cedar is a Nyiyaparli/Yindjibarndi woman from the Pilbara region of Western Australia, and is recognised as a strong Indigenous community leader. Jahna has worked for over 18 years advocating for equal rights and reconciliation of Indigenous people, and has represented Indigenous Australia at the United Nations in New York, on three occasions.
IPS delivers innovative and focused consulting services that inspire people and provide purpose for our clients. We embrace opportunities to create meaningful pathways for Indigenous people, businesses and communities.
IPS Management Consultants acknowledges the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia, and their continuing connection to land, water, and community. We pay our respects to Elders both past and present, and we extend that respect to all First Nations people.