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How to Cope With Being Marginalized at Work, According to an Author

  • Exclusion is one of the most common indicators of a toxic workplace, according to MIT research.
  • Being marginalized at work can affect employees’ productivity and mental health.
  • Alan Henry, author of a new book, told Insider how to cope with being marginalized at work.

Exclusionary 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 vary from microaggressions towards colleagues of a minority race, gender, or sexual identity to overt racism or sexism in the workplace.

Exclusionary behavior can be hard to respond to as a minority worker. Fighting back can lead to being branded aggressive. Going to superiors may not always get 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 minority workers’ productivity and mental health. Being marginalized at work can also hurt career progression, leading to fewer opportunities and less pay.

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

He broke down his top advice for handling microaggressions and discrimination in the workplace.

Turn microaggressions back on co-workers

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

These aggressions can be hard to handle in a workplace because they are not outright discriminatory and often don’t feel like enough to build a formal complaint around.

Around 61% of US workers had seen or been subjected to workplace discrimination based on age, race, gender, or sexual identity, according to a 2019 Glassdoor survey.

Henry said the best way to deal with these comments is to turn them back on the speaker.

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

“Especially when someone is in a group situation and they feel like they’re talking to somebody that they think is going to “get the joke” — if you turn around to them and press them on the question, alarm bells go off in their head and they will run away very quickly.”

“It’s never failed me,” he added.

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

“You do want to keep track of how often things like this happen, because eventually if you speak to your manager about it, 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 provide an opportunity to escape from any microaggressions that happen in the office. 

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

He added: “I had more opportunities to slip out of meetings or situations where I may be dealing with people that I didn’t necessarily want to see or the people that questioned my abilities.”

Henry said that this benefit of remote work does “tend to trickle down to the people who are the most privileged in the workspace to begin with.” 

“By the time the benefits get down to marginalized folks, it may be more difficult for them to actually execute working with the people they know they would enjoy working with.”

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

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

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