What Are Micro-Inequities and Micro-Affirmations? How Do They Affect Employees and Manager-Employee Relationships?

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What are Micro-Inequities and Micro-Affirmations? How do they affect employees and Manager-Employee relationships? Micro-Inequities

According to Mary Rowe, Micro-inequities are “apparently small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognised by the perpetrator, which occur wherever people are perceived to be ‘different.’” Bernice Sandler, Senior Scholar at the Women's Research and Education Institute in Washington, DC, defined Micro inequities as the ways in which individuals are “singled out, overlooked, ignored or otherwise discounted based on an unchangeable characteristic such as race or gender.” “Micro-inequities”, as defined by Stephen Young, Senior Vice President of Corporate Diversity for JPMorgan, “are subtle messages, sometimes subconscious, which devalue, discourage and ultimately impair performance in the workplace.” As two of the three definitions suggest, micro-inequity are often unintentional or done in the subconscious. While this may be the case in most cases, it is not wise to believe that all micro-inequities which are carried out are unintentional or subconscious. Managers or Supervisors, who may hold grudges against employees for some reason or the other, may carry out overly blatant acts of micro-inequity fully aware of the degree of unfairness meted out to that individual. Micro-inequity can take forms such as the way in which an individual or group is treated, the gestures used when referring to that individual or group and the tone in which they are spoken to. Other forms of micro-inequity may range from not being invited to a particular meeting, not being given the requisite attention when making a speech or presentation, not being introduced properly to a new employee, who is being to others in the office to unfair annual performance appraisals with little or no justification. While these tangible forms of micro-inequity may have damaging effects on an employee, it is the subliminal messages or gestures like speaking to a co-worker or subordinate in a condescending manner or making disparaging or racist remarks that yield rippling effects.


On the opposite side of the coin, there is the phenomenon of Micro-affirmations which Mary Rowe defined as “apparently small acts, which are often ephemeral and hard-to-see, events which are public and private, often unconscious but very effective, which occur wherever people wish to help others succeed.”

In this phenomenon, workers performance, achievements and accomplishments are noticed, acknowledged, commended and valued. These small acts of micro-affirmations open the door to opportunities and form the basis for successful mentorship.

The benefits which micro-affirmations offer are not reaped overnight and therefore managers or supervisors need to exercise patience and consistency when carry out these acts. There are three ways in which micro-affirmations help counteract micro-inequities. First, if one person affirms another, then, by definition, they are blocking any possibility of creating inequities. Therefore, micro-affirmations block unwanted, negative behaviour. The two cannot happen simultaneously. Secondly, the intense nature of affirmation and appreciating an individual has the potential to reverse the effects created by micro-inequities. Thirdly, micro-affirmations have a built-in role model effect. When employees witness small appreciative acts, this allows them to see the effects and may invite them to replicate these acts, influencing their behaviour and possibly their environment.

Micro-affirmations are highly effective in the workplace can range from telling employees ‘well done’ when they perform exceptionally, placing ‘you are appreciated’ signs in areas where they are easily noticed, to warding/rewarding outstanding performances. For micro-affirmations to have the results intended, they must be must be sincere.

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