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Microaggression, Good Leadership and the Workplace

Microaggression, Good Leadership and the Workplace

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By Dr. Ginger Raya
Faculty Member, School of Health Sciences, American Public University

In light of the recent tragedy surrounding the death of Mr. George Floyd and the continual awareness we have of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is important to understand what role we actively choose to play in how we treat other people.

When confronted with the concept of Black Lives Matter, some of us may think that “All Lives Matter” is a better or all-encompassing movement. Don’t all lives matter after all? What if I told you this is an example of a microaggression?

What Is Microaggression?

Microaggressions are subtle slights meant to diminish the thinking of other people. These “other people” are usually racial minorities, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals.

While what you say or write may come across as joking, the person on the receiving end may experience a variety of negative emotions such as dislike or humiliation. You may have the intent of being innocent and light-hearted, but others perceive it as a subtle form of harassment.

The Difference between Microaggression and Legal Harassment

However, microaggression isn’t necessarily legal harassment. Harassment involves how the receiving party perceives your messaging.

The type of messaging that may result from microaggression include:

  • An assumption of intellectual or general inferiority
  • Potential criminal behavior
  • Denial of personal racism

Microaggressions can also come from a variety of different people: strangers, acquaintances and even personal friends.

Correcting Microaggression in the Workplace

Since microaggressions may be unintentional, how can we correct this behavior?

1. Understanding the concept of microaggression is a good first start. It is also essential to understand the damage that a microaggression does and to see examples of it.

2. Next, it is important to understand your own internal bias. Your frame of reference for seeing the world, for example, is based on that bias, and we all have it.

By making comments that make others’ thoughts seem inferior, we are continually feeding our own bias. It is important for leaders to always continue to grow and part of this growth is respecting others’ views. But how can we respect other peoples’ point of view if we have never experienced what they have personally gone through?

3. As emotionally intelligent (EI) leaders, it is our responsibility to not only make the attempt to understand others, but to also reflect on thoughts and our own responses which we may seem logical. There is great value in asking others whose views oppose yours for their feedback and their perceptions.

The key is to remain open, actively listen and be respectful of their thoughts as different as they may be of ours. Ask probing questions in an attempt to understand their own experiences and perceptions. This can be challenging, especially if we do not understand the role that privilege has in framing our perspective.

The point in breaking down microaggressions is that we can honor the plight of others without diminishing our own values and causes. Our response to causes like Black Lives Matter should never be for the purpose of inferring inferiority or superiority.

We can support our African-American friends and colleagues and not have it take away from the injustices we may personally face. Being emotionally aware of others’ experiences is key in empathizing and helping to eliminate microaggression.

About the Author

Dr. Ginger Raya is a faculty member in the School of Health Sciences at American Public University. She is also a Regional Manager of Physician Services Group at HCA, where she specializes in ambulatory operations, as well as acquisition and employment of healthcare providers and their practices. Dr. Raya is an experienced faculty and a course developer in healthcare administration for over 11 years. In addition, she is a certified career coach specializing in helping grad students find meaningful careers in healthcare.

Dr. Raya has a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Texas at El Paso. She holds a master’s degree in health care administration from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and a Doctor of Education in organizational leadership from Argosy University.

Dr. Raya was competitively selected and is a graduate of Leadership Texas (Class of 2015), a nonprofit social enterprise that is a nationally recognized, preeminent women’s education organization through Leadership Women, Inc. and was selected to participate in Leadership America, 2020 cohort and served on the Board of Directors for the local chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives. She was also elected to the Board of Directors for Evolve Federal Credit Union, one of the largest credit unions in El Paso, Texas, and previously served as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for KCOS-TV, El Paso’s PBS Station.

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