Forum: Tackle workplace microaggressions

I refer to the article "Concrete proposals to tackle women's issues in the works" (Sept 19).

As a working mother who homeschools two toddlers with her husband, I have been grateful for a supervisor who supported flexible working hours, even before working from home was a mainstay. It not only gave me the opportunity to return to work as a medical educator, but also laid the foundation for my return to front-line work against Covid-19 when there was a shortage of healthcare workers.

I am encouraged to hear about a nationwide effort to address protection from hiring prejudices, improvements in childcare arrangements to support working mothers, and support for caregivers.

But I would also suggest the need to provide support for something that gets less attention - helping women overcome microaggressions in the workplace.

Microaggressions are forms of everyday slights, indignities and put-downs which signal disrespect and reflect inequality.

These include having one's abilities in one's areas of expertise challenged as well as demeaning remarks in a private or public space. Research shows that the majority of women face microaggressions at the workplace.

Individual microaggressions can seem small. This makes it challenging to report the person responsible for them, especially if he is in a more senior position.

However, when repeated over time, microaggressions have harmful effects on one's experience, physical health and psychological well-being. A report found that women who face microaggressions are three times more likely to regularly think about leaving their jobs.

As someone who has regularly been the only woman in a roomful of men in senior positions, I have been on the receiving end of both explicit and subtle microaggressions at work.

While culture cannot be changed overnight, I believe that helping employees, male and female, understand examples of microaggressions and how to respond to them, would help shift culture in the right direction.

Empowering employees to identify microaggressions, encouraging timely and strategic dialogue on the topic, and providing legitimate channels of redress without fear of backlash would build a culture of greater inclusivity, psychological safety and productivity for all.

Tam Wai Jia (Dr)

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