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Micro-Inequalities Can Have a Macro-Impact

If you work with an HR organization or have a trained HR professional as a part of your business, then you’re well aware of the major interpersonal issues that can short-circuit a business. Sexual harassment training and racial sensitivity training are now are common part of the average American business and for good reason. But have you heard of the term micro-inequality?

A micro-inequality can be best described as a small social faux pas. Any small assumption made about someone based on characteristics that they cannot help can be considered a micro-inequality.

These could be something as small as scheduling a meeting on a religious holiday, or consistently interrupting a co-worker. The term micro-inequality was coined in the early 70s by an MIT professor to describe these kinds of small, petty, and subtle behaviors that could be the result of an unconscious bias against someone’s gender, race or religious background.

Most people might never be aware that they’ve committed a particular micro-inequality, unless confronted about them. Now, new research shows that these tiny moments tend to add up to the people that feel targeted by them.

Female employees who feel like they can’t get a word out in a conversation of high-level peers will be under-appreciated. People who practice certain religions might feel slighted and patronized when they continually need to remind bosses that they can’t attend meetings on an important day for them and their families.

Soon, what could be a minor social faux pas could grow into a hostile workplace environment for your team and result in important team members harboring resentment and ultimately leaving your business.

Just like with larger, more obvious examples of discrimination and hostility, the solution to eliminating workplace micro-inequalities is education and diversity. It’s important to give a voice to employees of different backgrounds and make every employee feel that they belong and that their opinions and contributions matter.

They should feel like they can mention to a higher up when they aren’t being heard in meetings. And they should feel like actions that are inappropriate or unwanted will be addressed - even if it isn’t as egregious as harassment.

According to a story published recently by Newsday, L’Oreal, an industry giant, routinely asks employees to fill out surveys and questionnaires asking for feedback on relations within the team and interactions with leadership.

Being honest as a company, being willing to hear feedback and react accordingly is very important to establishing a fair, welcoming and productive work environment. It’s also important to make sure that team members feel the ability to offer feedback without fear of retaliation, and in a method that is discreet.

L’Oreal found an excellent method, the results have shown. Many employees report having a positive and enjoyable experience working at L’Oreal.

No business owner wants to be a babysitter, or to have to constantly referee between small and petty differences between team members.

However, if you want to run a successful business, it behooves you to make sure your team and company is positive, welcoming and pleasant for every type of team member you employ now, or may wish to employ in the future.

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