Recognizing Gender-Based Microaggressions in the Workplace

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Workplaces have made progress toward gender equality in recent decades, but significant work still needs to be done. One of the biggest areas for growth is identifying and addressing gender-based microaggressions, which are vestiges of more overtly sexist workplaces. Microaggressions are so common that many would not view them as rooted in sexism, but they still have the potential to contribute to a hostile workplace that makes women and feminine colleagues feel inferior.  

Knowing what gender-based microaggressions look like is critical to their prevention – RALIANCE has identified some examples of microaggressions below so that you can begin to identify ways to make your workplace more inclusive:

1. Tone and behavior policing
Many people are socialized to believe women are inherently the kinder and gentler sex compared to men Therefore, when a woman is not demure in the workplace, she may be labeled bossy, rude, aggressive, or worse. Men who exhibit similar behaviors are lauded as decisive, confident, and a leader. This double-standard can lead to women or feminine colleagues not feeling able to assert themselves even when the situation calls for it.

2. Colleague Interruptions
Multiple studies confirm that, in general, men interrupt conversations more than women and those men are more likely to interrupt women speaking than other men who are speaking. Being interrupted can make someone feel like their contributions are less valued.

3. Mom-Shaming
Mom or parent shaming in the workplace can come in the form of comments such as, β€œI would never let someone else watch my kids,” or, β€œI know you might not be able to handle this project with everything going on at home.” These comments – often focused on how much time a parent spends working – can make someone feel as though they are neither dedicated enough to their work or their children. A workplace culture where parents are automatically assumed to be less dedicated than their childless peers also contributes to the gender wage gap, known as the β€œmotherhood penalty.”

To make a work environment welcoming to all colleagues, regular training should be in place to help everyone notice microaggressions and avoid the behavior. Frequent reminders about inclusive behavior can keep the marginalized group from bearing the sole responsibility of building a positive workplace culture.  

RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit


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