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Microaggression and Workplace Bullying: A Summary of Experiences by the DEI Committee

By SRAI News posted 03-13-2024 08:53 AM


Microaggression and Workplace Bullying: A Summary of Experiences by the DEI Committee

SRAI’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee examined the topics of microaggression and workplace bullying during a session presented at the 2023 SRAI Annual Meeting in Seattle and a virtual SRAI Coffee Talk. The committee’s findings and recommendations are highlighted here.

SRAI’s DEI Committee researched microaggression and workplace bullying, both forms of harassment, which remain prevalent in the workplace. The research on workplace harassment uncovered some astounding data.

  1. 23% of workers across the globe experience harassment (23% is ~750 million people; more than double the United States population)1;
  2. There were ~100,000 harassment charges in the US alone between 2018-20212;
  3. Women, trans-people, non-binary, and gender-diverse workers experience higher rates of harassment and violence2.

These are troubling statistics and yet, the most troubling of all, is that over 85% of people who experience harassment do not report it3. This covers all kinds of harassment, including  microaggressions, bullying, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism, religious intolerance, etc., and we get it. People don’t want to make waves. They don’t want to get others in trouble. They want to be the easy-going, amicable co-worker. Sometimes, those experiencing harassment aren’t even sure that the experience was harassment. We tell ourselves it was just a misunderstanding. That we’re being too sensitive. Everyone makes mistakes right? Everyone’s made an off-color comment at least once in their life so surely it wasn’t meant “like that,” right? Right?

These are all valid feelings and we heard much of the same from audience members during our talk in Seattle. What we also heard is that the people who experienced harassment were more likely to experience it from the same sources over and over again. Often times, the harassment never reaches full-blown racism, sexual assault, etc. However, these occurrences still make us feel, at best, very uncomfortable in a place where we spend a substantial amount of our lives. 

So, what do we do? Do we go straight to HR every time someone says something that makes us uncomfortable? Do we just grow thicker skin and numb ourselves while at work? Unfortunately, as is the answer to most questions we Research Administrator’s get asked, the answer is…it depends. 

It depends on who’s committing the harassment. It depends on how comfortable you are with your boss. It depends on the office culture. It depends most on who you are and what level of confrontation you’re able to handle. If you don’t feel safe standing up to the person or reporting them for fear of retaliation, that’s ok. It’s not your job to educate others and you have no moral responsibility to put your health or job at risk because of someone who can’t act appropriately in public. 

For those instances when you feel it safe and appropriate to speak up, that’s great! We heard so many stories where people stood up for themselves against harassment. In some instances, a simple discussion with a co-worker was enough to get the point across and the harassment to stop. Other instances had HR or manager involvement with some ending in full investigations into the reported actions. Though stories differ, the one thing that we heard over and over was that, no matter the outcome, people felt proud of themselves for standing up and calling out unacceptable behavior. Don’t keep silent if you can safely do so.

We wish there was an easy answer for dealing with harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, the path is full of uncertainty no matter what direction you choose. What we do know, and something that was echoed by our colleagues, is that harassment is a very uncomfortable situation, and your physical and mental health are top priority in every instance. The overwhelming number of stories that were shared during our presentation in Seattle gave us one major, and very comforting, take-away that resonated deeply with our entire group: we/you are not alone. More people than you can imagine have experienced some form of harassment in the workplace. The more we talk about this topic and the many forms in which it presents itself, the easier it will be to confront in the future.


  3. Feldblum & Lipnic, 2016

Authored by

Lyset Castillo, Research Operations Analyst
Beckman Research Institute City of Hope

Robert McTear, Director of Research Admin-Radiation Oncology
NYU School of Medicine

Beverly Morehouse, Senior Sponsored Programs Specialist
Stephen F. Austin State University

SRAI Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Members