Micro-inequities: Little Things Mean A Lot!
Despite her corporate dress and swank presence, when she walks to her new desk, she is interrupted along the way to “fetch coffee.” Her own secretary while kind, comments under her breath… “Guess they hire them younger and younger…”
Layla recognizes that while she has her stellar MBA diploma hung proudly behind her in the office, all too often, people assume she is sitting at her boss’s desk fixing a calendar, or that she is inappropriately at the wrong seat.
During her first division meeting, the vice president congratulates her with, “Gee Layla, you are awfully impressive in a meeting…” Layla thinks, of course she is impressive. That’s how she got the job. That’s what $100,000 of graduate school was for. Why is being impressive so noteworthy while for others it was just expected?
“Micro-inequities can be like little paper cuts.”
Is this bullying? Favoritism? Racism? Sexism? Such terms don’t exactly describe Layla’s experience, though her race and gender inform the slights she receives. She is not being attacked over time or facing escalating discrimination. She isn’t in a hostile environment, and even is promoted for her work and merit. Yet these little dings and slights challenge her resolve and focus at times. Layla is experiencing what is called “micro inequities.” She endures comments and behavior that at times make her want to disengage from her job. From time to time, Layla has a wandering eye on the job board in search of an environment that is more inclusive and supportive.
How can an organization be more sensitive? The Golden Rule is a good start. Make comments that you would like to receive and reflect on your own behaviors as a leader. If you have a great idea, do you want your supervisor distracted with text messaging when you talk? As a new hire, do you want someone commenting on your age, race, clothes or appearance is a less than flattering way How would you feel if people make inappropriate assumptions about your work duties based on age, race, gender etc?
Micro-inequities can be like little paper cuts on someone’s motivation. One or two might be overlooked; but even mild and non-verbal put downs over time can disengage even the best employee. Subtle put downs accumulated over time for employees can hurt staff productivity and compromise innovation.
Employers and coworkers can guard against micro inequities by reflecting on comments BEFORE such remarks are made audible. Remember, everyone doesn’t have the same sense of humor. Lastly, an authentic discussion and request for feedback can cut through misunderstandings and micro-inequities.