OSPE - The Voice - May 2019 - 17


"Your name is really hard to pronounce; can I just call you Jay?"
"Wow Miss, you're the Manager? I just assumed you were the receptionist!"
"Where are you from?" ... "No, I mean where are you really from?"
"When an engineer does something, he should remember..."


microaggression is an action or verbal message that
intentionally - or more often - unintentionally conveys a
stereotype, negative trait, or general insensitivity associated with
someone's race, gender, identity, sexual orientation, language
abilities or other identity markers. It is a subtle jab that reminds
someone that they are the "other" in some way. The more often
microaggressions are heard, the bigger the impact they will have
on a person's well-being. For members of underrepresented
groups, microaggressions can be a daily experience, forcing
them to question whether they belong and creating anxiety
about how others perceive them.
Maybe you're a queer man, and someone just asked you about
your girlfriend - you think at first, this is harmless, they're just
trying to get to know something about my life. But then you're
put in the awkward situation of either coming out of the closet
on a Tuesday afternoon to Bob (the kind-hearted Financial
Analyst from the third floor that you've met a few times), or,
you're forced to lie about who you are. Maybe you don't mind
once or twice, but after a while, it becomes exhausting. Members
of OSPE's Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee
shared some of their experiences: "After years of shock when
I mentioned I was in school for engineering, I felt like I had to
wear my iron ring to prove myself. As a young Black woman,
I did not fit the model of what people expected of an engineer.
These microaggressions can lead to people making changes in
their lifestyle to fit in like changing their attire, hobbies, habits
and more." "You're in engineering? But, you're a girl!"
"Are you sure you want to take on this additional volunteer
commitment? Your husband might divorce you and your kids
might not recognize you because you won't be home very much."
Although not unique to engineering workplaces,
acknowledging and addressing these behaviours is a step in
the right direction to achieving a more diverse engineering
profession. What should you do to avoid committing a


1. Challenge your assumptions - the core essence of
microaggressions stem from poorly held assumptions. That
is, assuming someone falls into your definition of "normal",
or assuming that you know anything about a person's identity
without giving them an opportunity to tell you.
2. Be conscious of personal comments in a workplace
environment - remember that work is already challenging,
and adding layers of discomfort will inevitably drive people
away. When making office small talk with people you don't
know very well, be extra conscious of broaching personal
subject matters. When in doubt, lead with a story to take the
pressure off the other person. If they're comfortable with you,
they'll share one in return.
3. Reflect on what you may have already said, and change your
behaviour - if any of this sounds like something you've done
in the past, it's not too late to change. You can be conscious
of your language and actions moving forward, and you can
even reach out to someone to apologize for what you've done
or said in the past. Just be sure not to make a big deal out of
your apology - it's more important that the other person feels
comfortable than you feeling gratitude for acknowledging
your mistakes.

1. Call in, don't call out - if you're well versed on microaggressions
and can point them out at a mile away, you unfortunately may
not be in the majority in this case either. Yelling at someone
or trying to embarrass them in front of a group of people is
simply fighting fire with fire, and you're unlikely to get the
end result you're after. If you're up for the emotional labour,
you can try speaking to someone one-on-one, and try to get
them to recognize their mistake. You can recommend that
your HR department run a campaign on microaggressions or
send them a link to a video or blog post on the subject. Some

Summer 2019




OSPE - The Voice - May 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of OSPE - The Voice - May 2019

Table of Contents
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OSPE - The Voice - May 2019 - Table of Contents
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OSPE - The Voice - May 2019 - Cover3
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