Subtle Bias: Micro-Inequities and Micro-Aggressions

This article was originally published for SHRM Blog and can be found here.

I am pleased to include a link to an article I wrote last month for Entrepreneur on subtle bias: How Entrepreneurs Can Spot Subtle Bias

The focus is on what I collectively call “micro-indignities”: micro-inequities and micro-aggressions.

There are often are complex definitions for these terms. But the definitions can be simplified.

Generally speaking, a micro inequity is a slight that demeans or marginalizes the recipient.

Generally speaking, a micro aggression is an act that stereotypes or denigrates the recipient.

In my prior article for, I provided a few examples based on gender, race and ethnicity, In this blog, I restate them and include many more.

My recommendation is that these types of micro-indignities be included in management training to maximize inclusion and to minimize employees’ feeling marginalized or demeaned and responding to same by legal or other means.

Micro-inequities tend to apply without direct regard to the object’s EEO identity.

A few examples:

  • The leader says good morning to everyone but one person.
  • A manager repeatedly ignores the existence of a colleague in the elevator.
  • A group of employees go out for coffee or drinks after work and leave one person on the team consistently behind.
    In these cases, the micro-inequity may or may not relate to an employee’s membership in a protected group. Even if it is not, it is still a problem. But, in some cases, it does relate to protected status, whether the result of conscious or unconscious bias.

Micro-aggressions are almost always specific to an individual’s EEO identity.

Here are some examples:

  • I went to see a woman doctor. Scrap the woman; her gender is irrelevant.
  • I did not know you like white music (said to an African American). What is white music? I thought Bach was appreciated by diverse groups.
  • You don’t sound black. You mean I don’t sound like your negative stereotype?
  • To a woman of color: you are so articulate. And you seemed so surprised.
  • You don’t look Jewish. Perhaps you can educate me on what Jewish people look like?
  • He is Christian, but very open-minded. Thank you for showing me how closed your mind is.
  • It’s great you don’t have any accent (to a Korean American). Well, since my great grandparents came here from Korea, I am not sure why I would.
  • How young are you (to someone age 75)? How ageist and patronizing are you?
  • I never would have guessed you were gay. Well, perhaps stop guessing.
  • You have a lot of energy for an old guy. And self-restraint too, because I am going to bite my tongue, kid.
  • Isn’t it nice that you are helping your wife out with the kids at home? I don’t need your validation. Plus, they are my kids, too.
  • You are no shrinking violent. And I mean that as a complement. Well, I am a COO so of course I am no shrinking violent. Your comment was sexist. I mean that as a compliment, too, of course, assuming you define compliment to mean disgust.
  • You are doing such a great job (to a disabled employee who is doing no better than anyone else.) This one is said with a condescending tone, as if,” wow.” And, by condescending, I mean talking down to someone.
  • I thought that way when I was young. Just because we think differently does not mean your thinking has evolved beyond mine!
  • Are you ladies going shopping at lunch? Will you guys be shaving your knuckles?

Sadly, I could go on and on. But I think you get the picture. In many of the examples given, the individual thinks he or she is paying a compliment. And that, my friends, is what makes it all the worse. So address this in training so that these types of micro-indignities diminish, if not disappear.

These are my views only and are not intended as legal advice.