Barriers to Inclusion – Micro-inequities in the workplace

27th April 2021

You may have noticed that it is not just the big things that exclude or devalue members of a team, often little things have an impact as well.

Our unconscious biases play out in our behaviours. Micro-inequities are tiny behaviours (gestures, tone, actions) or use of language (words) that undermine positive intentions, perceived by others as exclusionary and may discriminate.

Examples include conduct on the part of people in positions of authority that limits input from those who are seen as outsiders, foreigners, subordinates, or juniors. An accumulation of micro-inequities creates a workplace environment that feels friendly to some but pervasively hostile to others.

These behaviours, once noticed, can be reversed or corrected (Micro-affirmations).

Here are some examples of micro-inequities, though bear in mind this is not an exhaustive list.  Have any of these things happened to you?

Checking a smart phone during a one-to-one meeting

If your manager is checking a phone during a 1-2-1 meeting then the message is that the person whose text the manager is reading is more important than I am. The solution is to put the phone down, turn off the sound or apologise if you have to take the call explaining why.

Repeatedly cancelling meetings with a colleague

Repeatedly cancelling meetings with a colleague gives the message that the meeting with me is not a priority. The solution is to ask yourself why, apologise, and schedule a meeting for which you are fully present.

Greeting one person more warmly than others

By greeting one person more warmly than others, the manager is giving the message that they have a favourite and it is not me. Greet each person in the room in a similar way, except in unusual cases such as when a person has returned after a long absence.

Using acronyms that others do not understand

Using acronyms that others do not understand is sending the message that there is a special language for insiders here. Explain acronyms and if there are numerous, create a list.

Cutting off a person in mid-sentence

Cutting off a person in mid-sentence gives the impression you are not interested in what the other person has to say. Let the person finish, even if their communication style or language skills are different from yours.

All of these and many other examples represent the various types of risks to a business that is not aware of the importance and potential negative impact of unconscious bias.

It’s well documented that everyone has their own biases, including subtle behaviours that stem from our unconscious biases (both positive and negative).  Left unchecked, it is these micro-inequities that can lead to some people being treated more favourably than others. All of these, and more, can have a cumulative impact that can either benefit or harm individuals in a group. If we allow our unconscious biases to inform our more subtle interactions with others then we risk alienating individuals, thereby creating a potential divisive working environment where favouritism rather than talent, wins out.

Want to find out more on how these micro-inequities, their impact, and antidotes affect your workplace?  Contact us today for a free demo of our Insiders and Outsiders course or take a look at our course video here.

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