Microaggressions Are Evolving

Many of us know the term ‘microaggression’, but for those of you who are unfamiliar, we will define it for you. According to The Micropedia, “microaggressions are defined as everyday snubs and insults that marginalized groups face. They’re often very subtle comments or actions that come from implicit bias and/or stereotypes.” Sometimes, despite it being called a microaggression, the statement can seem large and inappropriate. For example, “Can I touch your hair?” said to a black person (or a Black woman), is now well known as a disrespectful and racist comment, or “That’s so gay,” meant as a derogatory comment or insult, is very obviously homophobic. Because the term microaggression is somewhat of a buzzword now, people are more able to easily identify blatant microaggressions. 

However, I’ve noticed something…

Microaggressions are evolving – they are a bit less obvious these days. Now, people are saying things that may not strike you as offensive at first, but when you play it back in your mind, you realize that you were uncomfortable or agitated at that moment for a reason. To me, they’re sometimes like a backhanded compliment, or the tone of someone’s voice when they’re making the statement can be confusing. Sometimes I can’t wrap my head around what was said because it wasn’t recognizably distasteful, but I still didn’t like it.

So, instead of giving you all an overview of microaggressions, here is a list of some microaggressions we’ve heard that might not be overt, but are still just as bad. I am going to break them up into categories, so you can see what demographic is being offended. 


  • “Jesus, you were born in 1997? You’re a baby!”
  • “You’re really young to be an executive.”
  • “I was expecting someone a little more senior.”
  • “You’re young, you’ll be fine.”
  • “You’re literally a baby!”
  • “You’re too young to be stressed.”
  • “You’re a kid, making friends is easy.”
  • “You’re young, can you help us with this tech thing?”


  • “Oh my gosh, you live there? Isn’t that area a bit dangerous?”
  • “Wow, that’s a rough area!”


  • “Wow, you’re still working and you feel like that? I wish I was that strong!”
  • “You’re so brave.”
  • “I could never do that.”


  • “Well if I’m in Lillian’s shoes, here are the things I’m concerned about and the priorities I’d be thinking about.” (Said to a woman who is in the room)
  • Well, it’s not really our job as a company to take care of people.” (Said to a woman)
  • “Oh, I got it little lady, wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself!”
  • “They/them? I don’t get it, you dress feminine.”
  • “Oh my gosh, I thought you two were sisters or something.”


  • “How do you type with those long nails? I could never have nails that long.”
  • “Oh wow, your hair is long today!”
  • “Wow, it takes that long to get your hair done like that? I could never sit down for that long.”


  • “Oh wow, that’s commitment! Not eating or drinking anything from sun up to sun down? How are you even working?”
  • “Are you sure you can’t have a sip of water? What if you’re dehydrated?”
  • “How are you not super hot under your hijab?”


  • “Oh my gosh, I thought you two were sisters or something.”


  • “Oh wow, I expected you to be taller based on how commanding you were in our video calls.”
  • “Oh my gosh, you look slimmer! Are you losing weight?”

Despite the ‘micro’ in microaggression, it can cause big feelings and an unhealthy work environment for employees and even leaders. According to the article, “‘We Need to Retire the Term “Microaggressions”’, by Ruchika Tulshyan, microaggressions can be more harmful than overt forms of racism. There is debate about even using the term anymore because of the considerable toll it takes on someone after dealing with it consistently. 

Leaders, it’s important to educate yourself on not only microaggressions but how to approach and take action when they occur in the workplace. 

First, check-in with the victim. Acknowledge that you saw/heard it, that you care and can offer support. Many times people who experience microaggressions respond in silence because they are not sure if they should speak up, or they’re questioning their own experience of the microaggression (“Did that just happen? Maybe it wasn’t really that bad…”) Validating someone’s experience is necessary, whether you’re a leader or employee because it can make someone feel seen. Feeling seen and heard can contribute to employee safety and a sense of belonging in the workplace. 

After you’ve taken care of the victim, speak with the aggressor and point out the behavior and the impact it had. This will help raise awareness and mindfulness. Follow that by asking an open-ended question like, “What impact were you anticipating when you said that?” this can get them thinking about the situation, and how they can do better. It’s possible the person may get defensive or shut down in response to your feedback, so leave time for them to reflect and revisit the conversation later if necessary. 

The workplace and work culture can already be exasperating for some, especially those from marginalized communities, so learning about microaggressions, learning how to respond, and taking accountability can give someone one less thing to worry about.

If you want to learn more about microaggressions, we strongly suggest The Micropedia – it’s an excellent resource and learning tool! It breaks down microaggressions by category and gives solutions to responding and taking accountability.

What microaggressions have you experienced or heard that may not have been very obvious until later? Tell us in the comments, we’d love to hear about your experiences and how you handled them. 

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