In Episode 107, Melinda Briana Epler, Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst, shares a short talk based on her Out & Equal Workplace Summit session with our friends at Qualcomm on “Interrupting Microaggressions: Workplace Interventions for Calling People In.” In this workshop, Melinda shares how we can call each other in to interrupt microaggressions experienced by LGBTQIA+ folks in the workplace. She guides us through microintervention processes and scripts we can use to address common verbal, nonverbal, and environmental microaggressions. She also shares how managers and team members can take action to create a call-in culture together.
- Learn more about Melinda Briana Epler
- Read Melinda’s book, How to Be an Ally (McGraw-Hill)
- Learn more about the Out & Equal Workplace Summit
- Learn more about Qualcomm’s work on diversity and inclusion
- Download the infographic report from The State of Allyship Part 3: How People Become Better Allies (JPG)
- Read the review article from the International Journal of Behavioral Science, “The Impostor Phenomenon”
- Download HRC Foundation’s report, “A Workplace Divided: Understanding the Climate for LGBTQ+ Workers Nationwide” (PDF)
- Read the book, Microaggressions in Everyday Life, by Derald Wing Sue and Lisa Beth Spanierman
- Watch or listen to EP82: “How To Interrupt Subtle Acts Of Exclusion With Doc Jana”
- Watch or listen to EP51: “Recognizing & Overcoming Microaggressions – Part 1 With Melinda Briana Epler”
- Watch or listen to EP52: “Recognizing & Overcoming Microaggressions – Part 2”
- Watch or listen to EP7: “Strengthening LGBTQIA+ Leadership In The Workplace with Jennifer Brown”
This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com.
- “When we center our own experience…, our own identity, our own geographic location, our own way of thinking and being, we start to create an ingroup around that, and we start to define what is normal around that. And anybody who doesn’t fit within that idea of normal is an outgroup, is excluded; you’re excluding people based on your own sense of what is normal, based on your own identity. As a result, we can make assumptions about people, like…, their pronouns…, sexual orientation…, their experiences with marginalization. So it’s really important to decenter our experience even, so that we’re really opening up [to] who is in that idea of normal that we have.”
- “A lack of inclusion in the physical space might look like no [access to] safe all-gender restrooms for people who are trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming; or that one restroom is on the other side of campus, or down the hall, down the elevator to the main floor of a multi-story building. Traveling while trans can be dangerous, can make somebody feel unsafe as well, because they might be traveling into places that have laws against LGBTQIA+ folks, or there is no access to safe all-gender restrooms, and so on. So, really important to keep in mind: if you’re a manager and you’re sending people to different places, you might advocate for their safety and well-being.”
- “Sharing your own process…, development…, learning journey can help people see that it is that learning journey that you’re learning too; it can help lower their defenses…. Say you’re talking about greater inclusion for LGBTQIA+ folks, and a leader says, ‘I don’t care about somebody’s gender or orientation as long as they can get the job done….’ You might say in response, ‘I used to think along similar lines; that we need a world where it doesn’t matter what your identity is, you can belong at work. But then I realized that your identity does matter. In order to belong and really thrive at work and do our jobs well, we need to recognize each other’s unique identities rather than ignore them. We also recognize that people with certain identities experience more marginalization, so we have to design a culture that works to solve this.’”
MELINDA: Hello, everyone. I’m Melinda Briana Epler, Founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How to Be an Ally. I’m your host of Leading With Empathy & AllyShip. Welcome!
Allyship is about learning, showing empathy, and taking action. That process often includes learning, unlearning, and relearning, then building empathy for people with different experiences, and above all, taking consistent action. So each week, we’ll learn from somebody new. Please be open to new ways of thinking and understanding. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
Let’s get started.
Welcome, everyone. Today we had a last-minute cancellation from a guest. So I thought I would share a short talk that I gave recently at the Out & Equal Conference. It’s an adaptation from our deeper Change Catalyst workshop on interrupting microaggressions.
This is a shortened version of our workshop, specifically on interrupting microaggressions for LGBTQIA+ folks. In this workshop, I partnered with our friends at the Qualcomm Pride ERG. So unfortunately, you won’t receive the benefit of the full session where they helped to put this all into practice. They acted out different scenarios and the audience participated. It was amazing! We had a room full of people all working to create change. So hopefully, we’ll get to do that again and you’ll catch this live.
This is a short talk about Interrupting Microaggressions: Workplace Interventions for Calling People In, and I’ll be addressing specifically microaggressions experienced by LGBTQIA+ folks in the workplace.
As you all know, I’m Melinda Briana Epler. I’m the Founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How to Be an Ally. I advise, coach, and train leaders on how to build diverse, equitable, and inclusive companies, and really drive allyship across organizations. My pronouns are she/her, I’m bisexual, and I have some hidden or non-apparent disabilities.
For folks who are joining us via YouTube, I am a White woman with long red and blond hair, and wearing black and white glasses. I’m wearing a black shirt, a black long-sleeve shirt. In my background on one side is a tall, narrow bookshelf, and a plant kind of going down that bookshelf. And on the other side are some plants surrounding my book, How to Be an Ally, which has a bright orange cover.
Our agenda for today in this session. I’ll share a bit of an introduction, and we’ll talk about some common workplace microaggressions, especially those experienced by LGBTQIA+ folks in the workplace. Then we’ll talk about calling each other; what does that look like, what does that feel like? We’ll move from microaggressions to micro-interventions, and I’ll share some scripts that you can use, and we’ll put it all into practice. Then we will talk about integrating this into your culture as well.
To start here, I just wanted to ask you all to ponder your own barriers, your own challenges. What is your biggest challenge to intervening when you witness a microaggression? Something that’s really important for us to understand internally, what is holding you back? Our research at Change Catalyst shows that the top challenges that people have, are not having the skills or the understanding. I would argue that perhaps that’s not all there is. That behind that is a fear: a fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. a fear that we might cause additional harm if we take action, something along those lines. Is that fear getting into the way for you? I want to ask you to move past that fear. Because ultimately, if we do nothing when a microaggression is occurring, we’re complicit in what’s happening. So it’s really important to do something. We’re not always going to get it all right, and I’ll talk a little bit about what we do when we make mistakes. The important thing is to do something. So move past that fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. Do the work to learn what might be a good intervention, and then know that you’re not always going to be perfect, but you’ll learn as you practice. Check in with each other. See how it’s working, how it’s feeling to the person, the people who are experiencing microaggressions. And learn, grow, continue to take action however you can, it’s really important.
So what I’m sharing today is in my book, How to Be an Ally. I know many of you have learned about my book at this point, in our many over 100 episodes. So if you want to go deeper, there’s obviously a lot more in my book. Because there’s two chapters on microaggressions, of lots of types of microaggressions and ways to intervene. So you might go deeper, learn more, so that you can take action.
Microaggressions in the workplace are: everyday slights, insults, negative verbal and nonverbal communications. That whether they’re intentional or not, most of the time, they’re not intentional, they can still make somebody feel marginalized, unsafe, disrespected, belittled, unheard, impeded, and like they don’t belong. We all experience microaggressions at one time or another, almost everybody does. And people with underrepresented identities experience them more frequently, and often more deeply. People with intersectionally underrepresented identities might experience that even more. So people who have multiple identities or aspects of identity where they are marginalized, they might experience this discrimination. Women of color, women of color with disabilities, trans-women of color with disabilities, for example, might experience more microaggressions and deeper microaggressions throughout their life.
In that moment that you are confronted by a microaggression, you might have an amygdala hijack. I believe I’ve talked about this in the past here as well, in a past episode, where we went into microaggressions. So we’ll link to that in our show notes. In that moment you’re confronted by a microaggression, you can have an amygdala hijack. It’s that physical signal in your brain that produces a fight-freeze-flight response. Everybody is a little bit different when it comes down to amygdala hijacks. For me, I look to fly out of that room very quickly, or sometimes I freeze in that moment. It can take over your brain. It can take over your thoughts. It can make it difficult to innovate. It can also make it difficult to intervene in that moment, because your brain is shutting down; your prefrontal cortex is shutting down. And of course, it can make it difficult to do your work.
Several studies have also shown long-term biological, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral effects from the continued stress of microaggressions over time. So often, microaggressions, yes, it’s important in that moment to recognize the impact, and also to recognize the impact after years and years and years of having that same microaggression occur in your life. On top of the biological, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral effects, there are intergenerational effects from marginalization that can be passed on from generation to generation as well. Physically through our fetal cells, as well as through our words and our actions. This can really affect people’s lives long-term.
Exclusion can change how you show up at work. The internalization of exclusion, it can come through an imposter syndrome. You might start to believe all of the different things that you’re hearing about not being good enough, and despite all of your skills and success, you start to feel like an imposter, like people are going to find out that you don’t have those skills and expertise.
I’m sure many of you listening and watching have experienced imposter syndrome at one point or another in your lives. There’s a research that shows that 70% of all of us experience imposter syndrome at one point or another in our lives. And yet, people with underrepresented identities tend to experience it more frequently and more deeply. You might find a way to cope by covering a piece of your identity, for example. We’re talking specifically about LGBTQIA+ folks today; many people cover their LGBTQIA+ identities. 46% of LGBTQIA employees say they are closeted at work, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
And when somebody does that, they’re not showing up as their full self, they’re not thriving, when you’re covering. Also code-switching, when you are somebody different at home, when you speak different language, when you dress differently, when you act differently at home or outside of the office and then switch to conform at work. Any of these things, you’re not thriving, you’re not being your full self. It’s extra work on top of your daily work.
My friend, Jennifer Brown, who we have interviewed on this podcast before, says that the act of covering is exhausting, because it feels to me like you’re running two different hard drives. The effects of microaggressions and other forms of exclusion can present as a lack of productivity, lower engagement levels, physical and mental health issues, and leaving. Ultimately, why would you stay in a company if you’re experiencing regular microaggressions? So leaving the company, leaving the organization, leaving the industry as well.
So let’s talk about some common LGBTQIA+ specific microaggressions. I will say here that the LGBTQIA+ community is very diverse, with many intersecting identities. We may experience different or deeper microaggressions depending on those different aspects of identity. So this is a partial list, to get us started to get us thinking. Keep learning, whether that’s in my book or that’s elsewhere. Keep learning, keep identifying, working to recognize microaggressions that people experience, so that you can interrupt them.
The first one I want to talk about is centering your experience as the norm, because this can be the foundation of many other microaggressions, most microaggressions. When we center our own experience, when we center our own identity, our own geographic location, our own way of thinking and being, we start to create an ingroup around that, and we start to define what is normal around that. And anybody who doesn’t fit within that idea of normal is an outgroup, is excluded. You’re excluding people based on your own sense of what is normal, based on your own identity.
As a result, we can make assumptions about people. Like, make assumptions about their pronouns, make assumptions about their sexual orientation, make assumptions about their experiences with marginalization. So it’s really important to de-center our experience even. So that we’re really opening up who is in that idea of normal that we have, who is in our ingroups, and avoid putting people in outgroups.
Stereotyping and assumption, and often derogatory belief about a particular group of people. Most of us know what stereotyping is, really important to interrupt it. So we’ll talk about that in a moment. Negating somebody’s identity. Calling into question somebody’s identity or ignoring it altogether as if it doesn’t exist. This happens a lot in different workplaces, specifically for LGBTQIA+ folks. We can start to avoid people, because we are uncomfortable as a result of negating somebody’s identity. For an LGBTQIA+ person, that could be treating somebody’s identity as just politics, or something you’ll grow out of. Or after someone comes out, you decide you’re going to treat them the way you’ve always treated them, without considering their identity. Many people with LGBTQIA+ identities experience this when they come out, and somebody close to them, they just can’t get there in their brain. I’ve always used he/him pronouns. That’s how I’ve always known them, that’s what I’m going to keep using. Oh, that’s really awful for somebody who’s coming out.
Dismissing experiences with marginalization. So dismissing somebody’s experience with marginalization is a form of gaslighting, which is in itself a microaggression and can be very deeply marginalizing. So that might look like telling somebody their experience with exclusion is all in their head, or they didn’t intend to harm you, or they asked for it by dressing or acting the way they did. So these are deep microaggressions that really can be difficult to navigate your life experiencing them; they’re deep experiences with marginalization. It’s really important to focus on trusting people’s experiences, really learning and understanding their experiences.
Implying one or two genders are the norm, like 50-50 gender balance. You might try gender parity instead. Or, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Instead, try everyone, you all, y’all. So we really want to work to de-gender our language. Online forums, products, even marketing campaigns, where you’re asking people about their gender identity, can also perpetuate this microaggression as well. If you go to a website, you have a drop-down menu and there are only two options to pick, or even a third option that is Other, that can feel very othering.
Misgendering. Referring to somebody by an incorrect gender, like using incorrect pronouns. So don’t assume somebody’s gender pronouns, look them up. Often, people include their pronouns on social media, so you can look there. You can also just ask when you first meet people. You might say, my pronouns are she/her, what are yours? Really be aware of any assumptions that you’re making, interrupt those assumptions in yourself, de-center your experience as the norm.
Dead-naming. Dead-naming is using somebody’s name they were assigned at birth, rather than their current name, or their chosen name. This arises in particular for transgender people, and it’s really important to recognize that we can dead name people of other identities as well. Some immigrants, people who are married, people who are divorced, and other people who have changed their names for different reasons. So it’s really important to make sure that we’re not dead-naming.
Outing. Outing is talking about somebody’s identity publicly without their permission. That could be gender, sexual orientation, and it also could be disability, religion, or age as well. We can also out people through systems or processes as well. At Change Catalyst, we worked with a company a couple of years ago that migrated from one intranet to another, and they were working to try to make it as seamless as possible, make it easier for people to get right on that new platform as quickly as possible. So they imported all of the names and emails from their HR platform into that new intranet platform. Well, as we all know, the HR platform does not have all of the correct names, the current names that we all use, and so they outed a bunch of people when they did that. They outed people who are transgender, they outed people who had been married, divorced, and so on. So it’s really important there to recognize that it’s in our words, it’s in our actions, it’s in our language, and it’s also in our processes and systems that we can out people.
So those are some verbal microaggressions specifically. I want to pause here and ask you, what microaggressions you have seen or experienced? Take a moment to think about which ones have you noticed. Because the key to all of this, the first step is recognizing these microaggressions. So then we can overcome them in ourselves and interrupt them when we see them.
We’ll move into a few nonverbal and environmental microaggressions as well. The first is avoidance. When we’re uncomfortable with someone, when we’re uncomfortable with their identity, when we don’t have a lot in common with them perhaps, we can often avoid them. We can avoid talking with them, we can avoid hiring them, we can avoid interacting with them in a workplace situation. And that can really impact people’s lives, careers, and sense of belonging.
Also, invisibilization. Invisibilization can be passive or active. It’s a form of avoidance where we don’t listen to somebody’s ideas, we don’t acknowledge their ideas, we don’t recognize their contributions. Both of these nonverbal microaggressions can impact somebody’s feeling of belonging, as well as their ability, to contribute, to lead, to be recognized for their work, to be promoted, and more. All of that impacts our well-being, as well as our careers.
Then, a couple of my microaggressions at the environmental level. A lack of inclusion in the physical space might look like no safe all-gender restrooms for people who are trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming. Or that one restroom is on the other side of campus, or down the hall, down the elevator to the main floor of a multi-story building. Traveling while trans can be dangerous, can make somebody feel unsafe as well, because they might be traveling into places that have laws against LGBTQIA+ folks, or there is no access to safe all-gender restrooms, and so on. So, really important to keep in mind. If you’re a manager and you’re sending people to different places, you might advocate for them in their safety and well-being.
Make all-gender restrooms. Here I want to say a bit about the importance of working together on solutions. It’s important that when we’re thinking about restrooms, if we make all of our restrooms all-gender restrooms, it can cause environmental microaggressions for Muslim people who need a gendered space to wash before prayer. So it’s important to create spaces where Muslim people also have the space that they need. So you might create fully separate all-gender restrooms, because that works for everyone.
Have a safe and comfortable space for people to pump breast milk, and it’s important to call it a lactation room versus a mother’s room. The last environmental microaggression that I want to talk about is performative allyship or inclusion. If there are policies in place and people don’t follow them. So I spoke with a leader of a Pride ERG the other day who was excited about a new gender inclusion policy announced in the company, and then she realized that the policy is optional and there’s no accountability. At that point, that’s performative. A company’s performative allyship can look like spending a lot of money and sending a lot of people to pride parade, for example, or having pride flags on your social media and celebrating pride month with lots of events. But there are no internal policies or training in place to protect people and to change culture. So just four more here to think about some nonverbal and environmental microaggressions, as well. Of course, there are a lot more in my book, How to Be an Ally. So I encourage you to keep learning, again.
I want to share a bit about calling each other in. Calling each other in is different from calling each other out, which calling somebody out can produce shame, and shame is one of the worst motivators for change. So we don’t want to shame people, we want to call people in: to learn, to grow, to improve, to change, and really create a culture where we’re doing that together. So if somebody says or does something harmful, kindly let them know how and why it might be harmful, and offer an alternative. Know that when you do that, sometimes people won’t be initially receptive and change in that moment; sometimes people get a little bit defensive. So know that you’re planting the seeds for future change.
This is a phrase that I learned from Derald Wing Sue and Lisa Spanierman in their book on microaggressions, that sometimes, it’s about planting the seeds for future change. You might not, in that moment, change somebody. But know that they might change after they digest it, after they continue to learn and they start to grow into change. Also, calling each other in only works if you’re open to learning and receiving the feedback yourself. So be open to that feedback as well. Again, do something. We know there’s real impact when people experience microaggressions, so it’s important to address it.
Lead with empathy. We’ve talked a lot about empathy on this show. Assume good intent, build empathy, build understanding. Most microaggressions, again, they’re unintentional, they’re based on years of biases that we’ve accumulated in our brains. So we need to unlearn them. So have empathy for each other, have empathy for yourself as well as you are learning.
Work together. If you can do this across your team, it’s so much easier. So when your team is all onboard and on a learning journey together, calling each other in is much more powerful as well. Seek to educate each other on your learning journey, and create a safe space for everybody to do this together. Have scripts ready. So I’ll talk a bit about some scripts that you can use, in a moment. Microaggressions can go very quickly, it takes seconds for a microaggression to occur. Sometimes we fumble, sometimes we have that amygdala hijack ourselves, even if we’re a bystander. So if you have that script ready, you’re more likely to be able to intervene in that moment. So use these scripts, make them your own so that they’re ready when a microaggression occurs.
Open yourself up to feedback. Again, listen with empathy, accept feedback when you’re called in. You can thank somebody for their feedback, that’s a perfect response, and you can also of course ask clarifying questions if it’s helpful. Often, when people learn about microaggressions, they focus on the intent. That’s not what I meant. I didn’t intend for them to feel that way, or they took it the wrong way. That unintentional harm is still harm; impact is the focus here. So microaggressions are experienced and felt regardless of your intent. So focus on the impact, knowing that you’re not going to do everything right. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s okay, we all make mistakes. So again, let go of that fear and stand up for what’s right. If you make a mistake, apologize, tell them you recognize that you caused harm. Let somebody know you’re going to do it differently next time.
Listen. If they want to share their own experience, listen to them with empathy, if they want to share how it impacted them. But remember that there is no obligation on anybody’s end when they’re receiving an apology to say anything. And don’t expect them to say it’s okay, because that’s not what apology is about. Keep learning. Be kind to yourselves, be kind to each other, be supportive, give each other grace, and work toward solutions.
Okay, so let’s move from microaggressions to micro-interventions. As good allies, we want to intervene in order to stop that harm. In the moment that we can stop that harm, we can also stop the harm after it happens. So if you miss that moment, it’s not the end. You can also check in with somebody one-on-one and do some of the same work. How do you respond to a microaggression? In the moment, start with a pause, begin with a pause. This gives you time to gather your thoughts.
My friend and colleague, Doc Jana, who you all have met on a previous episode. Doc Jana suggests here to have a phrase use for this, so you don’t have to think about it in the moment, whatever that works for you. It can be Hold on. It can be Pause please. It can be Stop for a moment, can we stop for a moment? Derald Wing Sue and Lisa Spanierman suggest using the term Ouch. Whatever that is, find a term that works for you, and name and disarm, explain why you paused. You can pause as long as you need, and then name the microaggression. Because when you name that microaggression, you’re making the invisible visible; you’re helping to disarm any toxicity and disarm the power that a microaggression can have.
Educate. Assume good intent and call them in, help them to learn. So I’ll share examples of this in a moment. And then, treat the impact. Remember that there is short and long-term impacts from microaggressions. So you can help somebody heal from microaggressions. Treating impact might look like checking in with them after it happens, listening to them, supporting them, working on a solution together to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and using micro-affirmations. So micro-affirmations are little ways that we can use our words and our actions to counter that impact from microaggressions. Micro-affirmations can counter the impact of microaggressions. If somebody has experienced impostor syndrome regularly, you can help build their confidence. If they’re nervous about something, if they’re going into a new role, boost their confidence. I know you can do this; I’ve seen you do this. Or if their experience or identity is questioned or dismissed regularly, actively affirm their identity. If they’re invisibilized, regularly amplify their voice, find ways to amplify their voice. So lots of ways that we can treat the impact as well. So pause, name and disarm, educate, and treat the impact.
Also, as I mentioned, you can call somebody in, during or after the fact; you need to decide what’s appropriate and safe. Sometimes we miss that moment, we can have that amygdala response as a bystander. Sometimes there’s a power differential. If it’s your boss, and you don’t feel it would be effective to call them in, in front of their team, you might do it afterwards, after the fact. Sometimes it might jeopardize the safety of yourself, or the person experiencing the microaggression in the moment. Especially in that case if the person intended to cause harm with that microaggression, that’s a case where you might skip the educate part. You might get help from HR. You might get help from your manager. In the moment, you can still interrupt the microaggression, by redirecting, by deflecting, by moving the conversation away from the topic, to stop any further harm from happening.
So when you do it after the fact, when you interrupt after the fact, when you’re calling somebody in one-on-one, you might start with, are you open to some feedback, or can I share some feedback? That kind of makes somebody a little bit more receptive, because usually, people say yes in that moment. If they say no, then don’t do it. But if they say yes, they’re likely a little bit more receptive, and you can carefully and kindly give them some feedback.
These are a few microaggression scripts. There are more in my book again, and I encourage you to take these in, adopt them, and make them your own. It’s not a be-all end-all list, it’s a few examples to get you started. The first is to separate intent from impact. So this assumes good intent and appeals to people who care about being a good ally, by being a good human, by being a good leader. You might say something like, “I know you didn’t intend for this, but this is how that phrase or action might harm someone.” Or “I know you care about diversity, equity, and inclusion. So I wanted to share this with you.”
I was an executive a few years ago, and we were all talking about a new hire. The CEO said, wow, she checks all the boxes: multiracial, woman, lesbian. Ouch, right? I could have said to him, “I know DEI matters to you. I know diversity, equity, and inclusion matters to you. So I wanted to let you know that when you said that someone checks all the boxes, it can be hurtful and offensive to the people in the room who have underrepresented identities. Because you reduce them to a box to check, and I know you don’t want to think about them that way. I know you don’t think about them that way.” To separate intent from impact.
The second, share your own process. Sharing your own process, your own development, your own learning journey, can help people see that it is that learning journey, that you’re learning too. It can help lower their defenses. So say you’re talking about greater inclusion for LGBTQIA+ folks and a leader says, I don’t care about somebody’s gender or orientation, as long as they can get the job done. Ouch, right? You might say in response, “I used to think along similar lines, that we need a world where it doesn’t matter what your identity is, you can belong at work. But then I realized that your identity does matter. In order to belong and really thrive at work and do our jobs well, we need to recognize each other’s unique identities rather than ignore them. We also recognize that people with certain identities experience more marginalization, so we have to design a culture that works to solve this.” Share your own process.
Third, ask for clarification. You can use this for a lot of situations. So remember, you’re assuming good intent. Sometimes someone just needs a moment to reflect on what they said. So they can say it a different way. Sometimes you might have not really heard what they said in their head before they said it out loud. So it can be a good one when people use stereotypes, for example. You can say, can you say more about what you mean? Or, I’m not sure I understand, can you say that a different way? Just give them time to self-reflect and say it a different way to correct, ask for clarification.
The fourth, refer to rules or values. So this one is especially good if it’s egregious, or if it’s intentional. Sometimes somebody knows they’re saying something that they shouldn’t be saying, but they say it anyway. That could look like, “Our rules clearly say that we don’t tolerate harmful stereotypes. Or what you just said doesn’t align with our values as a team; we value inclusion, we value empathy, and so on, whatever those values are for your team. Or that’s against our anti-racism, anti-harassment, or anti-bullying policy, which states this.” So refer to your values or rules.
Disagree. When I was on a global executive team, we were discussing hiring more people with underrepresented identities at the company. The principal said, I’m okay hiring underrepresented people, but I don’t want to lower the bar. Ouch, right? There were several people with underrepresented identities in the room at that time. In the moment, I will say that I had an amygdala hijack myself and I didn’t respond. It was many years ago where I didn’t know even the word microaggression. So in retrospect, what I could have said, what I might have said is, “I don’t agree that hiring more diverse engineers will require us to lower the bar. There are lots of incredible engineers who are underrepresented out there, the data shows that. We do need to rethink how we reach and attract them to our company, however.” So disagree.
The last is, redirect and protect. So sometimes interventions don’t work in the moment. You don’t feel safe to intervene, or the conversation doesn’t go in a productive direction. If so, you can redirect the conversation. This can take a lot of different forms. For example, “I’d love to take this conversation in a new direction. I have a project I’m working on, and I can use some ideas.” You might also say in that moment, “Before we do that, can we take a five-minute break, so everybody can reset and refocus?”
So we talked about micro-intervention scripts: separate intent from impact, share your own process, ask for clarification, refer to the rules or values, disagree, redirect and protect. Again, make these your own, I encourage you to spend a little time after the session to go through these and come up with your own scripts, then you’ll have them ready when something happens, when you’re ready to intervene in that moment.
I want to say just a few words about integrating this into your culture. Because as I mentioned, it’s much easier to create a call-in culture together. So some things to think about is to put this all in practice with your team; you might share this episode with your team, you might share my book with your team, you might talk through this work together. So that you are all practicing and calling each other and inviting each other to call yourselves in, so that you’re not unintentionally harming each other. You might host training workshops or provide other resources for people to continue to learn and deepen their learning and discuss those together. Remember that leaders lead the change. So if you are a leader, lead the change. Model this work, actively work to learn, and be called in, invite people to call you in. And if you aren’t a leader, encourage your leaders to do this work. Advocate for training, for workshops, for other resources for people to learn about microaggressions.
Have clear policies in place, so that you can refer to your policies around anti-harassment, around anti-bullying, and so on. Make sure you have clear policies in place, and also a place for people to go for support, for learning, and for checking in. You know, this happened and I’m not sure what to do about it. It’s really helpful for people to be able to have space or a place for talking about this work. And also for reporting. If somebody has been harmed repeatedly, if somebody has been harmed egregiously, if somebody has been harmed at all, there should be a place where somebody can go and talk with somebody and work together on a solution.
Develop processes that reduce microaggressions. There are lots of different kinds of things that you can put into place that reduce the possibility of microaggressions. There’s some work in my book around that. And know that this is a journey, everybody’s on a different point in their journey. So give people grace, give yourself grace, and work together.
You all know that I’m going to ask you what action you will take. I’m going to ask you to take an action. Based on all of what you have learned in this session, what action will you take, what will you do differently? Will you do something differently around learning? Will you do something different about calling people in? Will you do something different around intervening in that moment or treating the impact? What does that work look like for you? Commit to taking an action?
Again, we talked about common microaggressions; we talked about some verbal microaggressions, some nonverbal microaggressions, some environmental microaggressions. We talked about calling each other in. We went through scripts and micro-intervention process and some scripts, and integrating this into your culture. So again, what action will you take?
Thank you all for doing this work. Thank you all for taking action. I hope this was enjoyable and interesting for you as a kind of quick episode that we threw together, to really focus on interrupting microaggressions specifically for LGBTQIA+ folks in your workplace.
Take care everyone, and we will see you next week.
We’ll share resources and a transcript from this discussion at ally.cc. And please make sure to subscribe to our channel and rate this show, it makes a difference for us. Thank you for being part of our community.
Remember, the more we take action, the more we grow as humans and as leaders, and the more we transform our communities. So what action will you take today? Let us know your actions by emailing podcast@ChangeCatalyst.co or reaching out on social media.
Leading With Empathy & AllyShip is a show by Change Catalyst, where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. You can learn more about us at change catalyst.co. So let’s keep building allyship across our communities and around the world.
Thank you for listening.
Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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