Feeling Devalued? You Might Be Dealing With Micro-Inequities


It’s March and we are celebrating strong women from the past and present. While I’m constantly inspired by women in history such as Ida B. Wells, I get excited when a woman of our day makes a gutsy move. This month I’m inspired by Melissa Harris Perry.

Melissa put her career on the line and pretty much walked away from a lucrative job that no longer served her. From everything I’ve read, it appears that Melissa was facing micro-inequities. She was one of the few voices on her television network addressing issues related women and race. She felt continuously dismissed and her work devalued. She had the skills and qualifications to speak on the 2016 election but she was shut out and others with less experience were given the opportunity to participate.

Does all this sound familiar?

While we may not have our own nationally syndicated television show, each of us faces micro-inequities at work at all levels of our careers.

Micro-inequities at work are a series of encounters characterized by others overlooking our accomplishments, ignoring our contributions, and devaluing our work as compared to our peers.

Here are a few examples:
  • When you contribute to a discussion at work, your manager or coworker dismisses your ideas
  • You are the last one to be recommended for training opportunities, special company recognition programs, or stretch assignments, even though you have the same qualifications and work ethic as your peers
  • You are constantly interrupted when you are speaking
  • Your manager or colleagues use a dismissive or aggressive tone with you that is rarely used with others
  • Coworkers are very comfortable speaking to you in a condescending tone that is not used with others
  • A sense that you just don’t matter. Your presence, interests, and success are not important to the company

Since you are constantly left wondering what you’re doing wrong, you lose focus on your work and operate in fear. Your self-esteem takes a hit and, in turn, impairs your ability to perform at your full potential. In addition to that, the stress of it all saps your energy and motivation. The state of being can be so frustrating. Some of us deal with it by focusing on the job and others pull the Melissa Harris-Perry exit strategy.

Instead of throwing in the towel altogether, here are a few tips for dealing with all the toxic micro-inequities running rampant on your team.

  1. When a comment or dismissive gesture is made – say you aren’t finishing talking, ask for a few minutes to finish making your point. Look directly at the individual interrupting you and make your point. It is a warning sign that you will be heard. If he or she continues doing so in subsequent meetings, repeat. He or she will get the message and everyone else in the room will also learn that you will not be dismissed.
  2. Stop wrestling with thoughts of inadequacy if you are hitting your responsibilities out of the park. Don’t let them see you sweat. Show up every day and handle your assignments with grace and with a great sense of self-worth.
  3. Constantly ask your manager or the person devaluing your work for clear, specific guidelines on what success looks like. Make them spell out exactly what you need to do to receive recognition from them. This will force them to clearly articulate what they see as success instead of you fumbling around to figure out what he or she wants. This is not a one-time conversation – you must set up one-on-one meetings on a monthly basis where you bring up their list of what success looks like and your progress on those goals.
  4. Face unconscious bias you encounter with clarifying questions instead of direct statements. Never, ever, tell your co-worker their behavior is sexist, racist or homophobic unless you have clear evidence of an overt slur or interaction or you are ready to quit the next day (the Melissa Perry-Harris exit strategy). When you tell your coworker they are treating you unequally, they will most likely get very defensive. It’s akin to trying to explain to an amnesia patient that they had another life prior to their amnesia. You’re both operating in two different realities. You won’t win. It’s a lose-lose situation. Instead, ask clarifying questions such as, “Tell me why you feel that way?”

While employing the Melissa Harris-Perry strategy is certainly tempting when the going gets tough at work, quitting altogether may not be a viable option for various reasons. Using clarifying questions to communicate with our bosses and co-workers can help us teach others how we want to be treated; it’s up to you to show them how.


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About Author

Janet Asante is a Human Resources executive who's mission is to build confidence in people of color at workplaces everywhere. Catch her on Twitter, Instagram or her blog NotesFromHR.com