As part of ATAP’s strategy of Increasing Awareness, Increasing Action leading to an Increase in Accountability, we focus on microaggressions and upstander training for this issue of ATAP News.
The workplace should be safe, secure, pleasant, and comfortable for all employees. However, many types of behavior can lead to unpleasant workplaces and environments for employers.
At an All-to-All meeting held on March 27, 2023, Jon LeGaux from Berkeley Lab’s FAIR office delivered a presentation on microaggressions, implicit bias, and the importance of being an Upstander in the workplace.
- Brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities that are intentional or unintentional that communicate hostile, derogatory, or prejudicial slights and insults toward any group.
- After an interview, a coworker gives a low rating to an appropriately dressed African American woman because “she did not look professional.
- You’re in a meeting, and a woman colleague is spoken over or interrupted repeatedly.
- In a meeting, a colleague tells an Asian woman they hope she won’t be on maternity leave for long since the team “can’t manage without her.”
Implicit biases, said LeGaux, are “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their conscious awareness,” noting that everyone holds unconscious beliefs about “various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.”
Some examples of implicit bias include:
- Performance bias – The tendency to assume some people are much better at a task than others based on stereotypes.
- Likeability bias – The expectation for men to be assertive, so when they lead, it feels natural. We expect women to be kind and communal, so when they assert themselves, we like them less.
- Attribution bias – This type of bias is the predisposition to attribute an individual’s successes or failures to personal shortcomings instead of factors outside their control. Because some people see women as less competent than men, people tend to give them less credit for their accomplishments and blame them more for their mistakes.
- Affinity bias – When we gravitate toward people like ourselves in appearance, beliefs, and background. We may avoid or even dislike people who are different from us.
- Stereotypes – Overgeneralized perceptions and beliefs about how an individual in a specific group should or shouldn’t act.
Being an Upstander
An Upstander, said LeGaux, is someone with integrity and courage who (1) recognizes when something is wrong; (2) respectfully intervenes to educate and promote civil and professional conduct; and (3) raises awareness about the behaviors to (hopefully) prevent the situation from happening again.
He noted that an Upstanders’ intent is “to educate, knowing that Lab colleagues are at different points in their learning journey as well as to extend grace to each other as we learn.” He provided some guidance and direction on ways to be an upstander:
- RESTATE OR PARAPHRASE. “I think I heard you saying____________ (paraphrase their comments). Is that correct?”
- ASK FOR CLARIFICATION OR MORE INFORMATION.
- “Could you say more about what you mean by that? How have you come to think that?”
- SEPARATE INTENT FROM IMPACT. “I know you didn’t realize this, but when you __________ (comment/behavior), it was hurtful/offensive because___________. Instead you could___________ (different language or behavior.)”
- CHALLENGE THE STEREOTYPE. Give information, share your experience, and/or offer alternative perspectives. “Actually, in my experience_________.”
- “I think that’s a stereotype. I’ve learned that___________________.”
- APPEAL TO VALUES AND PRINCIPLES.
- “I know you care about _________. Acting in this way undermines those intentions.”
- PROMOTE EMPATHY. Ask how they would feel if someone said something like that about their group or their friend/partner/child. “I know you don’t like the stereotypes about ______ (their group. How do you think he feels when he hears those things about his group?”
- PRETEND YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND. As people try to explain their comments, they often realize how silly they sound.
- “I don’t get it…….” “Why is that funny?”
- TELL THEM THEY’RE TOO SMART OR TOO GOOD TO SAY THINGS LIKE THAT.
- “Come on. You’re too smart to say something so ignorant/offensive.”
At February 27, 2023, All-to-All Meeting, ATAP Education, Outreach, and Diversity Coordinator Ina Reichel presented key findings from a 2019 survey on microaggressions for the Women’s Support and Empowerment Council’s Policy Committee.
Although informal and with a small sample size, the survey says the authors substantiated anecdotal evidence on microaggressions, with most respondents reporting having experienced microaggressions in the workplace. The top three microaggressions reported by respondents were:
#1 Frequent interruptions during meetings
#2 “He-peating” – occurs when a man is recognized for a suggestion that a woman had just suggested minutes before but was ignored
#3 “Mansplaining” – occurs when a man explains something in a way that is viewed as condescending or patronizing (this is particularly insulting when the person being lectured to is more of a subject-matter-expert than the “mansplainer”)
The authors suggest that for #1, a potential solution could be to train meeting facilitators to pay attention to this issue (research has shown that, on average, women are interrupted three times more often than men during meetings) and having an active bystander step in to ensure that the interrupted woman is heard. They also acknowledged a potential pitfall: when a woman self-advocates that she is being interrupted, as she can be perceived as “difficult” to work with, which emphasizes the importance of upstanders intervening.
For #2, a possible solution could be to have the meeting facilitator or active bystander remind everyone that the idea originated with their woman colleague.
The Lab’s IDEA Office has collected upstander resources to help the Lab address microaggressions.
For more information on FAIR @ Berkeley Lab click here.
Written by Carl A. Williams or other authors as credited.
For more information on ATAP News articles, contact Carl A. Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org).