Micro-Inequity Behaviors - Are They Harming Our Organization?

March 4, 2019

Forty five years ago, Dr. Mary Rowe coined the phrase “micro-inequity” as a short lasting, small event that was often covert, hard to prove, and unintentional.  A micro-inequity is a behavior, not a thought or belief.  It can be a comment, a gesture, a use of specific words, even a tone of voice.  Micro-inequities fall between the cracks of what is considered traditional discrimination because they don’t fit neatly into a legal framework.  They are subtle forms of discrimination-where a person is singled out, overlooked, ignored, or discounted due to their membership in a particular group.  Unfortunately, the results of micro-inequities are not trivial.  They lead employees to feel unwelcome, unsupported, devalued, marginalized and invisible in their own workplace.  Watch this short YouTube video by Jeanne Martinson on how a micro-inequity, a small and subtle form of discrimination, can lead to low productivity and turnover.

According to Jeanne Martinson there are four keys to remember about micro-inequities:

 #1.  These behaviors are driven by our unconscious beliefs. Most people are unaware of what they truly believe about others. Often people do not take the time to think about their beliefs about people who are of a different race, religion, generation, ability, or gender. Only when diversity training or coaching about diversity is introduced do many people reflect on their beliefs about others.

 #2.  We promote and surround ourselves with those whom we trust. We trust those we like. We like those who seem the most like ourselves. We must look beyond our comfort zone to ensure we are behaving in a fair way.

 #3.  Micro-inequity events are hard to recognize for victims, bystanders and perpetrators. When victims of micro-inequities do recognize these micro-messages, it is difficult to explain to others why these small behaviors can be a problem. Also, as micro-inequities are often unintended by the perpetrator, it is easy for others to discount the small events as unimportant.

 #4. Sometimes a victim of micro-inequities who make a complaint to management or human resources is told not to make a "big deal" out of it. The recipient may be judged as being too touchy or oversensitive. If a complaint is dismissed and the victim persists regarding in the issue, they may be seen as angry, oversensitive, or a bad fit for the organization.