This is one of several short essays that were prepared as a set of resources during the original ADVANCE grant period. The essay, written by Samantha January, introduces some of the key issuess related to incivility and microaggresions.
What are they?
Incivility/microaggressions represent subtle forms of interpersonal discrimination. In contrast to formal discrimination, which is characterized by overtly discriminatory behavior, interpersonal discrimination is conveyed through seemingly innocuous actions but may still represent more formal negative attitudes (Cortina, 2008; Sue, 2010).
Andersson and Pearson (1999) define incivility that occurs in the workplace as “low intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others” (p. 457). Examples of workplace incivility include interrupting others, speaking to others in a condescending manner, talking behind others backs, and undermining someone’s credibility in front of others. Cortina (2008) proposed that there is a more specific type of incivility, termed selective incivility, which is directed at women and people of color. Because uncivil interpersonal behavior appears harmless, perpetrators can mask their discriminatory attitudes toward women and people of color behind these acts with few repercussions.
Microaggressions are everyday verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities that communicate negative attitudes toward members of oppressed groups (Sue, 2007, 2010). Like incivility, microaggressive behavior is covert and perpetrators often do not intend to offend others and may be unaware that they may be causing harm. There are three types of microaggressions: microassaults (explicit attacks intended to harm the victim), microinvalidations (behavior that minimizes the feelings, experiences, or thoughts of a person), and microinsults (unconscious or unintentional insensitive behavior that is inconsiderate and demeaning of a person’s identity). Gender microaggressions can be harmful because they insinuate that women are inferior to men.
What are the consequences for targets?
Being the direct target of incivility can lead to a myriad of negative outcomes including increased anxiety, stress, and depression (Adam & Webster, 2013; Cortina et al., 2001; Lim & Cortina, 2005; Miner et al., 2010), lowered organizational commitment and job satisfaction (Cortina et al., 2001; Lim & Cortina, 2005; Lim et al., 2008; Miner-Rubino & Reed, 2010), and lowered perceptions of fairness (Lim & Lee, 2011). At the organizational level, incivility can lead to lowered task performance (Chen et al., 2013), increased counterproductive work behavior (Penney & Spector, 2005), and ultimately increases in withdrawal behavior and turnover intentions (Chen et al., 2013; Lim et al., 2008; Miner-Rubino & Reed, 2010).
Gender microaggressions also cause harm to targets. For example, research shows that when women experience microaggressions, the effects can be deeply damaging psychologically, leading to depression, low self-esteem, body image issues (Lundberg, 2011) and distressing emotions (Capodilupo, et al., 2010). Using an intersectionality framework, research has documented that experiences of gendered racial-microaggressions (i.e., subtle discriminatory behavior at the intersection of one’s race and gender) relate to heightened psychological distress (Lewis and Neville, 2015) and depressive symptoms (Donovan, Galban, Grace, Bennett, & Felicié, 2013) for Black women.
In short, subtle interpersonal workplace discrimination creates an unhealthy work environment for women leading to numerous negative outcomes.
For more information, please consult these selected references.