Back in 1970, Harvard psychiatrist Chester Pierce coined the term “microaggression” to describe casual degradations toward people of color.
Today, the concept has broadened and includes other attributes of marginalized groups. Sexuality, body type, religion, class and education to name a few.
We asked successful women from different walks of life to tell us about microaggressions they face. They are artists, activists, models, CEOs and authors. These women — from Coffee Meets Bagel’s co-founder to Miss Black USA — deal with biases that affect their day-to-day lives.
Here are the stories they shared with us.
“I’ve probably pitched to over 100 investors so far in my life, and 97 percent of them have been male investors. I became painfully aware this year that the questions that I mostly receive from these male investors are focused on potential losses (“How predictable are your future cash flows?”), whereas men get asked promotional questions (“What are your next big milestones?”). I’ve also flat-out been asked how old I was. Now that I have a child, I get asked questions about work-life balance. I used to have my baby’s photo [as a background] on my phone. Not anymore.”
“One of the most common instances I face — when I’m moving around the streets and getting on and off elevators — is people compulsively apologizing. They say, ‘I’m sorry,’ even though they haven’t done anything to apologize for. [It makes me wonder if] they feel sorry I’m in a chair, feel like they’re in my way or want to hear me say ‘it’s okay.’”
“I’ve been told many times how accomplished I am and how eloquent I sound. I’m always asked if I’m the first in the family to go to college. I’m asked if my mom was born in the United States or if she speaks English … I remember being on a phone interview and the person asked me — he knew about my activism — if I was going to be mentally stable at the job.”
“One of my first writing jobs was for a comedy website I absolutely loved, and we’d have frequent brainstorms to generate new content. One of those brainstorms was about embarrassing childhood experiences. I began to say, “I remember being teased because…” and my colleague chimed in, “Because you’re a firecrotch?” There was some nervous laughter, and I simply responded, “because I had braces.” He never looked me in the eye after that.”
“My microaggression that I come up against all the time in my industry is when brands and designers supposedly want to work with me, but make me feel like actually they don’t want to or my presence is tokenistic. They’ll struggle to actually help me get dressed or wear their clothes when I don’t fit their teeny tiny sample sizes.”
“As a professional ballet dancer, I’ve never received any microaggressions toward my body but about my hair. My hair is in its natural 4c coiled texture … I remember guesting at a company one day and the concern was if my hair would achieve the desired style. I was one of two black women in the company, and my counterparts were Caucasian and Asian. The other black woman’s hair was relaxed, and mine was not.”
“We were at a work meeting where we were discussing the best time to plan for a particular project. I [made a suggestion] and it was shut down immediately, almost viscerally, by my supervisor at the time. It was a hard no. Later on, a colleague made the exact same suggestion in an email. Immediately everyone agreed. I felt so invisible and offended. The other colleague was at the same level as I was in the organization; the only difference is that she was a white woman.”