Microaggressions are actions that people take that can cause you to question the essence of who you are and what you are doing. The actions are often subtle, quietly eroding the forward movement in your career confidence.
The official definition of micro-aggression is “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority) (source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/microaggression).
The micro-aggression can be from an individual or a group – and often comes at unexpected times. I remember when I first learned about this term. It really did explain a number of things I had felt and thought about over the past 30 plus years of my STEM career. It is amazing how a definition of an action can help you to address it in your own personal life. The persons that perform this action can be well-meaning and possibly generally supportive of what you are doing. However, this subtle undermining of your actions can be a distraction to you in your daily professional walk.
Sometimes micro-aggressions can escalate and become a form of bullying (see: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201101/bullying-microaggressions). It can be based on a power imbalance and result in intimidating behaviors in personal and professional spaces.
A Huffington post blog by Anna Giraldo Kerr provides 5 things to do to address microaggressions (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anna-giraldo-kerr/5-tips-to-handle-microagg_b_5658351.html ) (1) Remain calm and take a deep breath, (2) Give the benefit of the doubt, (3) Focus on the event, not the person, (4) Be clear about the different elements of a micro-aggression, (5) Develop your own way to handle microaggressions.
In the STEM realm, the nuances about the validity of your scholarly pursuits and your interpretation of scientific principles are often hotly debated issues. Beyond making sure that you have your facts straight, forming alliances with colleagues is one method to utilize in an environment where collaborations can strengthen your path towards success.
Sometimes, we can overreact to a person that is just well… being a “jerk” in terms of how they deal with everyone they come in contact with in the workplace. In this case, getting wise counsel from a co-worker that seems to be able to “manage” their interactions with the “jerk” may help you.
There are no simple answers to deal with microaggressions. The first thing is to identify that this is actually what is happening to you. Then do your homework to get the assistance you need to address the actions. Finally-if the “so-called” micro-aggressions are physically threatening, abusive and or are seriously debilitating in nature – you need an intervention from a manager, HR or someone that can partner with you to address this behavior (and STOP IT!).
Heavy stuff, I know! For now, just go get a cup of coffee or tea and take a deep breath. Then you can start to address the issue with clarity and a strong resolve!
Actually… you can be STEM Resilient!!