Microaggression refers to subtle, often unintentional acts of discrimination or bias that marginalize or invalidate people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristics. These behaviors manifest through comments, actions, environmental cues or body language. 

Microaggression – meaning and definition 

Microaggressions are defined as indirect, subtle, or everyday actions, statements, or behaviors that communicate discriminatory or biased messages towards marginalized groups. 

They can occur in various social interactions, including conversations, body language, or written communication. 

Microaggressions often stem from unconscious biases and stereotypes that are deeply ingrained in society.

What are microaggressions? 

Microaggressions manifest in different forms, and it is essential to recognize and understand their variations to address them effectively. 

Below are some common types of microaggressions.


Microassaults are deliberate acts of discrimination or bias, such as using racial slurs or engaging in overtly prejudiced behavior. The acts are meant to hurt the intended victim through name-calling, avoidant behavior, and purposeful discriminatory actions. 

A microassault is characterized by its explicit nature. It is intended to demean or dehumanize individuals based on their race, gender, or other identities.

Intentional microassaults include the following:

People who commit microassaults may not always fully comprehend the severity and harm caused by their actions. For instance, they might dismiss their behavior as harmless jokes.

Specific examples of microassaults:


Microinsults are subtle and often rude or insensitive comments that subtly disrespect a person’s racial heritage or identity. These remarks convey derogatory assumptions, stereotypes, or biases while maintaining a veneer of politeness or indirectness. 

They imply that someone is less intelligent, lacks morals, or does not belong based on their racial or ethnic background.

This includes:

Microinsults reinforce harmful stereotypes and perpetuate a climate of exclusion and discrimination. They can make individuals feel unwelcome, invalidated, and misunderstood in their everyday interactions.

Specific examples of microinsults:


Microinvalidation occurs when someone attempts to discredit or minimize the experiences of a person who belongs to an underrepresented group. This type of microaggression undermines and dismisses the lived experiences and perspectives of individuals from marginalized backgrounds. 

Microinvalidations include the following:

Specific examples of microinvalidations:

Nonverbal microaggression

Microaggressions don’t necessarily have to be verbal to be offensive. As mentioned earlier, they can be deliberate actions or things conveyed through body language.

Here are some examples of nonverbal microaggressions:

Microaggressions in the workplace 

Microaggressions are prevalent in many workplaces, creating an environment that can be hostile and alienating for marginalized groups. 

Below are some examples of workplace microaggressions.


Stereotyping involves making assumptions about an individual’s abilities or behavior based on their race, gender, or other characteristics. This can lead to limited opportunities and biased treatment.

For example, a female engineer may be subject to the stereotype that women are not as technically skilled as men. As a result, she may be overlooked for leadership positions or challenging projects, despite her qualifications and track record of success.

Dismissing or undermining contributions

This microaggression involves minimizing or devaluing the ideas, opinions, or work of individuals from marginalized groups, preventing them from fully participating and advancing in their careers.

An example of this is if a person of color suggests an innovative solution during a team meeting, but their idea is quickly dismissed or attributed to someone else. Their contributions are undermined, limiting their ability to have a meaningful impact and be recognized for their expertise. 


Tokenism occurs when marginalized people are treated as token representatives rather than recognized for their talents, skills, and qualifications. 

An example of tokenism is when a company hires a person with a disability solely to meet diversity quotas, without providing equal opportunities for growth and advancement. This individual is tokenized as a “diversity hire”, failing to acknowledge their unique abilities and contributions.

Microinvalidation in feedback

Microinvalidations in feedback involve providing feedback that disregards or dismisses the unique challenges marginalized individuals face, thereby perpetuating inequality.

For instance, a manager gives feedback to a non-binary employee by saying, “You’re too sensitive about gender issues. It’s important to focus on work and not get caught up in identity policies”. 

This feedback dismissed the employee’s valid concerns and experiences, invalidating their identity and hindering their ability to fully thrive in the workplace. 

Specific examples of microaggressions in the workplace

The controversy surrounding the use of “micro” 

The term “micro” in “microaggression” has sparked some controversy and debate. Critics argue that labeling these acts as “micro” downplays their significance and impact, suggesting that they are minor or inconsequential.

However, it’s important to recognize that the term “micro” does not refer to the severity of the aggression itself but rather to the subtle and often unintentional nature of these acts.

The term emphasizes the covert nature of discrimination and highlights how seemingly small acts can contribute to a larger pattern of marginalization and oppression. 

The recipient matters

It is important to understand that the perpetrator’s intentions do not solely determine the impact of microaggressions. Regardless of whether the person delivering the microaggression intended to harm, it is the experience and perception of the recipient that matters.

Microaggressions can accumulate over time, leading to significant emotional and psychological distress for those targeted.

Dismissing these acts as insignificant overlooks the systemic nature of discrimination and undermines efforts to create inclusive and equitable environments.  

The psychological effects of microaggressions

Research shows that microaggressions can have profound physiological effects on individuals who experience them. These repeated subtle acts of discrimination can create a hostile and invalidating environment, leading to various negative outcomes.

Examples of such include the following:

  1. Psychological distress: Microaggressions can cause feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and anxiety, contributing to overall psychological distress. 
  2. Imposter syndrome: Consistent exposure to microaggressive behavior can make individuals doubt their abilities, leading to imposter syndrome, where they feel unworthy of their achievements.
  3. Negative self-image: Microaggressions can erode self-esteem and self-confidence as individuals internalize the negative messages conveyed by these acts. 
  4. Stress and burnout: The constant vigilance required to navigate microaggressions can lead to chronic stress and burnout, affecting overall well-being and job satisfaction.

How to deal with microaggressions 

Addressing microaggressions in the workplace or any other context requires a multifaceted approach that promotes education, awareness, and accountability. 

Below are four examples of ways to effectively deal with microaggressions.

1. Education and awareness

Foster an environment that promotes understanding by:

These educational initiatives can help employees recognize and understand the impact of microaggressions, challenge their own biases, and develop empathy towards marginalized groups. 

By creating opportunities for learning and self-reflection, organizations can foster a culture of respect and inclusivity.

2. Lead by example

Organizations should establish clear policies and guidelines that explicitly state zero tolerance for microaggressions. Leaders and managers play a crucial role in creating an inclusive environment by setting a positive example, for instance, by:

By consistently modeling inclusive behavior and demonstrating commitment to addressing microaggressions, leaders can set the tone for respectful interactions within the organization.

3. Empower marginalized voices

It’s important to create an environment where everyone feels safe and empowered to speak up and share their experiences:

By actively listening to marginalized voices, organizations can better understand the challenges faced and work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for all.

4. Promote diversity and inclusion

Actively work towards creating a diverse and inclusive workplace through equitable hiring practices, representation in leadership positions, and ongoing diversity initiatives:

By fostering diversity and inclusion, organizations can reduce the occurrence of microaggressions and create an environment where everyone feels valued and included. 


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