It is no secret that gender inequality is still a prevalent issue in many workplaces, and microaggression is one of the subtle yet damaging ways that inequality manifests. Practices like mansplaining, manterrupting, and bropropriating can have a significant impact on women's confidence and presence in the workplace, ultimately affecting their success and opportunities for growth. While organisations have been doing their bid to promote diversity and inclusion, microaggression is still prevalent in the workplace.
Some of the factors behind the prevalence of microaggressions include a lack of awareness about the impact, a desire to assert dominance, and unconscious biases that are often rooted in stereotypes, leading people to make assumptions or judgments based on an individual's race, gender, or other identity markers. This could have a significant impact on employees' sense of belonging, motivation, and engagement in the workplace. Hence, it is important to acknowledge and address microaggressions to promote heterogeneity.
That's why microaggression, its impact and its remedy were the focus of People Matters' Big Questions' latest Linkedin Live session. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we invited Rajesh Rai, Vice President - People and India, GlobalLogic India, Smriti Handa, Chief Human Resources Officer, BharatPe and Amruta Choudhury, Head Inclusion and Diversity, Flipkart, to discuss strategies for addressing and handling mansplaining, manterrupting, and bropropriating in the workplace.
Addressal: The first step towards creating awareness
To raise awareness, the initial measure is to develop interventions that aid individuals in recognising and managing microaggressions. This is because the impact of each biased comment may seem small, but over time they can create a cumulative effect that can damage a person's confidence and self-esteem. The Head of Inclusion and Diversity at Flipkart stated that it's crucial to recognise that mansplaining, manterrupting, and bropropriating need to be discussed and addressed more openly.
“In my experience, many people are not even aware of these occurrences, which is why we need to create awareness and design interventions to help them identify and handle these situations. Unfortunately, we tend to trivialise these experiences and label those who speak up as rebels or feminists. However, it's important to understand that these behaviours often stem from power dynamics, which can affect historically underrepresented or underestimated groups,” said Choudhury.
Furthermore, the Chief Human Resources Officer of BharatPe gave a few prominent examples of biases faced by women in society, emphasising the importance of establishing an inclusive workplace that enables equal opportunities for all individuals to thrive.
“I remember the incident in 2009 when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the Emmy Awards and declared that Beyonce deserved the award more. It was a clear example of an individual trying to override the judgement of experts and assert their own opinion as superior. This pattern of behaviour is not limited to boardrooms or corporate settings, but is evident in various public spaces,” shared Handa.
“Take the case of the 2016 US Presidential Election, where Trump interrupted Clinton almost 54 times during the debate. Unfortunately, research suggests that women are often not given enough space to succeed and their perspectives are overlooked. Additionally, there is a bias that perceives men who speak more as more intelligent than vocal women. This creates a gap of 25%. To address this issue, we need to create a culture that values diversity and provides equal opportunities for all,” she added.
Inclusion is everyone's responsibility
Creating a culture of equity is essential for building a healthy and successful workplace. However, achieving this goal is not an easy feat and requires continuous effort and dedication. Vice President - People and India of GlobalLogic India suggested that it is essential to understand that this process is not linear and requires a sustained effort from both men and women alike.
“Establishing clear boundaries and defining what is negotiable and non-negotiable in our culture is key to sensitising individuals on what is acceptable and what is not. This applies not only to male employees but to all employees in the company. By consistently discussing these topics and setting examples, we can create a culture of respect, compromise, and inclusion. However, it is important to remember that this process is not linear and requires continuous effort,” he said.
“Any unacceptable behaviour, whether exhibited by a male or female colleague, must be addressed immediately through feedback. Creating this type of culture is a top-down and bottom-up effort that requires consistency and action from all individuals, regardless of seniority. By enabling our female colleagues to stand their ground and take the first step, we can empower them to succeed and create a more inclusive workplace,” added Rai.
Silence perpetuates: Speak up against workplace sexism
Sexism in the workplace can take many forms, from subtle biases to blatant discrimination. Regardless of the type, it can create a hostile work environment, lead to unequal treatment, and prevent individuals from reaching their full potential. Addressing sexism in the workplace is essential to create a safe and inclusive environment for everyone. One of the most important steps in addressing sexism is for individuals to come forward and speak up when they witness or experience it. This can be difficult, as it requires courage and vulnerability. However, staying silent only perpetuates the problem and allows it to continue unchecked.
"I was once told in a 360 feedback that I needed to showcase more of the cultural traits that Indian women portray. Over the years, I have encountered similar situations where I have been labelled as aggressive or not cultural enough. While it bothers me, I realised that it starts with me showing courage and assertiveness in my point of view. I have my own personal board of directors who are invested in my success and care about company culture. I urge everyone, young and old, to come forward and show the courage needed to address sexism in the workplace,” encouraged Smriti Handa.
Rajesh Rai added that "it is essential to address unacceptable behaviour immediately, as ignoring it sends the message that it is acceptable. This is not a one-time dialogue, but a continuous effort to establish and enforce inclusive ways of working. It's about defining what inclusion means, providing examples, and ensuring that every employee understands what is acceptable and what is not. Ultimately, a culture of respect creates an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves and standing their ground with all due respect."
Leaders' vital role in creating bias-free workplaces
The significance of creating a workplace culture that stands against sexism cannot be emphasised enough. While individuals must stand up for themselves, it’s the leaders who can implement distinct policies against discrimination and harassment. This can include offering regular training and education, advocating for gender diversity and inclusion at all levels, fostering a culture of responsibility and openness, and conducting periodic evaluations of their culture and policies to pinpoint any weaknesses that require attention.
"As leaders, it is our responsibility to identify the cultural pieces that need sorting out and take action to embed positive ways of working. It may seem like small things, such as starting meetings with a ritual of committing to listening and raising hands to speak, but these small actions can pay off in the long run. We need to create a culture of respect, collaboration and inclusivity, where everyone's ideas are heard and interruptions are called out in a constructive manner. By providing managers with training material on how to conduct effective meetings and collaborate with their team, we can create a positive working environment where everyone feels valued and heard,” recommended Amruta Choudhury.
The Women Interrupted app: A tech solution for workplace bias
Effective strategies for addressing issues require proper measurement. In the era of technological advancement, there is a solution to almost all problems. The Chief Human Resources Officer of BharatPe talked about one such app that is dedicated to detecting and exposing manterruption in daily life.
"I strongly believe that to drive change, we need to measure it. While it can be difficult to measure softer aspects like respect in the workplace, there are solutions available. For example, the Women Interrupted app calculates how many times people interrupt each other in a meeting, and can provide a mirror to reflect on the issue. It's important to have discussions around respect in the workplace and invest in technology to help us monitor and improve it,” she told People Matters.
HR as a cultural curator: Moving beyond policies
The Chief Human Resources Officer of BharatPe believes that action in the room is what truly makes a difference. According to her, HR should serve as a cultural curator and a partner in delivering a respectful workplace culture. This involves not just having policies and manuals, but also calling out instances of mansplaining and making people conscious of their behaviour. Additionally, HR must also lead by example and walk the walk. This means being transparent, honest, and respectful in all interactions, and demonstrating a commitment to creating a culture of respect in the workplace.
“It's not enough to simply have a policy and ask people to follow it; we must practice it in action to make people conscious of it. HR should be a partner in delivering that culture, and it's important to take action in the room by calling out behaviour that contributes to workplace biases. We can learn from the past, such as the use of timekeepers in meetings to ensure topics are discussed within a designated time frame. Similarly, we should designate someone to respectfully call out mansplaining or other forms of bias in meetings,” suggested Handa.
Levelling the playing field: Men's role in addressing bias
It's no secret that women have been fighting for equality and respect for decades, and while progress has been made, there is still a long way to go. One key aspect of achieving true gender equality is for men to start acknowledging and recognising the contributions and perspectives of women. For too long, women have been talked over, dismissed, and even belittled in professional and personal settings. Men need to start actively listening to women and acknowledging their ideas and experiences.
This means giving women credit for their contributions, rather than appropriating their ideas as their own or dismissing them as unimportant. The head of Inclusion and Diversity at Flipkart suggested that in meetings and discussions, men can practice using the "yes and" technique, which involves building on a woman's idea rather than contradicting it or simply moving on to another topic. This technique not only shows respect for the woman's contribution but also fosters more productive and collaborative conversations.
"I would like to address bias against women by suggesting a simple practice that men can implement. When in a meeting or discussion and a woman shares a point of view, instead of responding with 'I have a different point of view' or 'I disagree', try replacing it with 'Yes, and...'. This acknowledges and gives credit to the woman's input, while also allowing for the introduction of new ideas. It disrupts the pattern of interruption and dismissal that often happens to women in these settings. I have personally tried this and it can be challenging, but it's worth it to create a more equitable and inclusive environment," said Amruta Choudhury
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