The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

How HR Can Help Eliminate Racial Microaggressions in the Workplace

Have you ever heard someone at your institution say to a person of color, “When I look at you, I don’t see color?”

Microaggressions such as this “colorblind” statement may not mean to intentionally demean the recipient, but intentional or not, it denies a person of color’s racial or ethnic experiences.

Microaggressions were a common theme in CUPA-HR’s first town hall meeting. These commonplace verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities make the receiver feel devalued and unappreciated and communicate unconscious biases. “When you don’t see my color, you don’t see the mistreatment that I may experience,” says Donna Asher, a town hall panelist and associate vice chancellor and deputy chief human capital officer at University of North Texas System. “You don’t see the microaggressions that I may experience. You need to see my color.”

How can HR combat microaggressions in the workplace and the policies that perpetuate biases? By not being “complacent or complicit,” says Brian Dickens, town hall panelist and chief HR officer at the University of Tennessee System.

Here are three ways HR can take the lead in helping to eliminate microaggressions in the workplace:

  • Educate Yourself and Your Team
    CUPA-HR’s Creating Inclusive Communities videos are excellent resources to educate yourself and your team on what microaggressions look like and how they affect an individual or minority group on campus. HR leaders can also use the Microaggressions Discussion Guide to facilitate conversations with their teams to gain a better understanding of microaggressions.
  • Call It Out
    We cannot fix the issue if we continue to sweep it under the rug. Call out microaggressions in the workplace, whether it comes in the form of a statement made by a colleague or a campus policy that perpetuates biases. Lean in to the uncomfortable conversation with the offender and let them know how their words or actions negatively affect the recipient, or how an aged policy is creating a structural obstacle for minorities to thrive at your institution.
  • Help Build a Diverse Workforce
    Microaggressions are less likely to occur among a workforce that is made up of diverse individuals who understand each other’s experiences. The free CUPA-HR course, Building a Successful, More Inclusive Search, is a free online tool that equips higher ed HR pros with the knowledge and resources needed to build such a workforce.

To continue the conversation and learning around microaggressions in higher ed, register for CUPA-HR’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge. Week two of the challenge will specifically address microaggressions, whiteness and implicit bias.

Related resources:

Become a Better Champion for DEI by Focusing on These Three Areas

Keep the Momentum Moving Forward for DEI

The Courageous Conversations: Building an Inclusive College Community (CUPA-HR webinar)