How to deal with marginalization at work, according to an author

  • Exclusion is one of the most common indicators of a toxic workplace, according to an MIT study.
  • Being marginalized at work can affect employee productivity and mental health.
  • Alan Henry, author of a new book, tells Insider how to deal with marginalization at work.

Exclusive or non-inclusive language, actions or attitudes are the most common indicators of a toxic workplace, according to an analysis of 1.4 million employee reviews by MIT lecturer Donald Sull.

This can range from micro-aggressions towards co-workers of a minority race, gender or sexual identity to overt racism or sexism in the workplace.

It can be difficult to respond to exclusionary behavior as a minority worker. Defending can lead to being seen as aggressive. Going to superiors may not always yield results if attitudes are normalized within a work culture.

Alan Henry, author of the new book “Seen, Heard, and Paid,” told Insider that these behaviors can affect the productivity and mental health of minority workers. Being marginalized at work can also hinder career progression, leading to fewer opportunities and less pay.

Henry is currently an editor at Wired and specializes in workplace productivity. He was previously editor of Smarter Living at the New York Times and editor of the productivity and lifestyle blog Lifehacker.

He’s broken down his top tips for dealing with microaggressions and discrimination in the workplace.

Refer microaggressions to your colleagues

Microaggressions are a type of indirect or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group.

These assaults can be difficult to deal with in the workplace, as they aren’t outright discriminatory and often don’t seem like enough to constitute a formal complaint.

According to a 2019 Glassdoor survey, approximately 61% of American workers have witnessed or experienced workplace discrimination based on age, race, gender, or gender identity.

Henry said the best way to handle these comments is to send them back to the speaker.

“Just turning it over and saying – ‘Well, what did you mean by that?’ – is so powerful,” he said.

“Especially when someone’s in a group situation and they feel like they’re talking to someone they think is going to ‘get the joke’ – if you turn to them and rush them on the matter, the alarm bells go off in his head and they will run away very quickly.”

“I have never missed that,” he added.

Keeping a record of offensive comments or actions can also show a pattern of behavior.

“You want to keep track of how often things like this happen because ultimately if you talk to your manager, it’s more about the data you can present to them,” Henry said.

Take control of your schedule

Controlling who you work with or what you work on can improve your productivity and protect your mental health.

Remote work can make it easier to manage your time and allow you to escape any microaggressions that happen in the office.

“When I worked remotely, I had more control over my schedule,” Henry said.

He added, “I had more opportunities to escape from meetings or situations where I might be dealing with people I didn’t necessarily want to see or people who questioned my abilities.”

Henry said this benefit of remote work “tends to trickle down to the most privileged people in the workspace to begin with.”

“At a time when benefits flow to marginalized people, it may be more difficult for them to work with the people they know they would like to work with.”

Time blocking, a method of time management that involves blocking out certain time in a day to complete specific tasks, can also help marginalized workers protect their energy.

“It’s just about picking one or two things that are really powerful for you,” Henry said. “If they work, defend them at all costs.”


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