“A senior partner asked to ‘touch my hair’ in order to confirm it was ‘all mine.’”

“An older male colleague interrupted me in a meeting and said, ‘now young lady…’ and then told me how I was incorrect in his opinion.”

“My hearing disability was described in a written evaluation by the board of trustees as ‘making communication difficult for my co-workers.’”

These real examples of microaggressions like these are incredibly common, according to our new research on the subject. Depending who you are, some of them may sound familiar.

Microaggressions—subtle, indirect, and sometimes unintentional acts of prejudice—are a problem that many people (especially in marginalized groups) experience personally, and many others fail to recognize. Because they can be nuanced, we wanted to learn more about the scope of microaggressions and which behaviors people find most offensive.

In partnership with Fortune, We asked 4,275 people about their experience with microaggressions, including overall number of people affected, and how people from underrepresented groups (women, people of color, those with disabilities, etc.) encountered them differently. Sixty-eight percent of Americans say it is a serious problem—and that’s just the start.

The very real cost of microaggressions in the workplace

Microaggressions are more widespread than you may think. More than a quarter of Americans (26%) have definitely experienced a microaggression at work, and another 22% are unsure. Thirty-six percent have witnessed one (with another 24% unsure).

With only 40% of workers confident that they’ve never seen a microaggression, there’s a huge population that’s potentially affected—which could also mean bad business.

Seven in ten workers would be upset by one of these disrespectful interactions, and among those who were, half said the action would make them consider leaving their job. Experts estimate that losing a skilled employee costs a company roughly 33% of their annual salary—a high price to pay for some thoughtless words.

What are the most common microaggressions?

Some microaggressions were considered especially upsetting, and close to a quarter of upset workers would leave their job as a result of these issues:

  • Unprofessional behavior
  • Hearing demeaning comments about peers
  • Having one’s idea taken by someone else

Other issues weren’t considered as dire, but were far more common:
Being addressed unprofessionally: Forty-five percent of workers say being addressed unprofessionally would upset them, and nearly three in ten say it would make them consider leaving their job.

Being told “you’re well-spoken” is also common: This issue, while it might seem innocuous, is often an issue for people of color. This is best illustrated through this comment, which was written in:

“When people speak to me over the phone before meeting me, they think I’m white. When meeting me, there is an unintentional facial reaction because I’m black and they are a little shocked. It implies that being black and well spoken isn’t the norm.”

29% of workers have experienced it, and the comment is disproportionately upsetting to black workers, with 9% saying it would upset them compared to only 2% of white workers.

Being spoken over: 28% have experienced being spoken over at work—something that women find particularly jarring. (47% say it would upset them compared to 37% of men).

How microaggressions hurt underrepresented groups

Gender, age, physical appearance, and race are the most common identities put down with microaggressions, although experiences run the gamut.

Microaggressions can be incredibly damaging in professional atmospheres. At work, minorities already feel a lesser sense of belonging than their majority peers, and are acutely aware of the conscious and unconscious biases affect their interactions at work.

Microaggressions strain those insecurities, and contribute to a culture where not everyone feels included.

Who is responsible for microaggressions?

Unsurprisingly, only 10% of the respondents believed that they’d personally committed a microaggression, but understanding and taking ownership is important—especially since managers were frequently mentioned as the aggressors in our survey—which is a serious problem, because three in ten workers believe the experience is worse if committed by senior employees.

Microaggressions aren’t always intentional. The best way to address them proactively is through education and awareness.

How employers can address microaggressions—according to their workers

In our recent guide, “How to measure Diversity and Inclusion for a stronger workplace,”  Heidi Williams, the CTO of tEQuitable, shared some ways that companies can proactively address microaggressions. To supplement those solutions, we asked respondents about their expectations about punishments for aggressors.

Here’s what the data has to say:

  • 67% think the aggressor should be made to apologize
  • 47% think managers should talk to their employees about potential microaggressions
  • 40% think HR should step in
  • 30% think that aggressors should have to undergo anti-bias training (though this goes up to 40% among people who have experienced a microaggression)
  • Only 9% think the perpetrator should be fired
anewmicro1

And here is Heidi’s initial advice.

  • Create psychological safety for addressing these issues without blame. The message should be: “it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.” Encourage employees to speak up and build awareness in the moment.
  • Introduce education and resources. Share articles and books, create discussion opportunities, role plays, and workshops. Make some trainings required and others optional.
  • Lead by example. Recognize and celebrate people who are living your inclusion values. (Only 2 in 10 of our respondents had heard leadership address microaggressions.)

Microaggressions are important to recognize, discuss, and address. That starts with building awareness—getting familiar with the types of statements that sting. To that end, we’ll leave you with a few final examples.

“He would repeatedly refer to something a woman said as ‘girl speak.’”

My boss told me it felt like he was talking to his wife when I asked him for directions to a location.

“A colleague made a comment about 9/11 not realizing my military service during the tragedy and years that followed.”

Microaggressions in the Workplace

SURVEY DATES: 

SAMPLE SIZE: 4,274

  • Which of the following best describes you?

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 4,274 1,971 2,303
    Employed – working full time
    74%

    81%

    67%

    Employed – working part time
    26%

    19%

    33%

    Not employed – student
    0%

    0%

    0%

    Not employed – retired
    0%

    0%

    0%

    Not employed – looking for paid work
    0%

    0%

    0%

    Not employed – not looking for paid work
    0%

    0%

    0%

    No answer
    0%

    0%

    0%

    Question wording: Which of the following best describes you?
    Survey dates: 
  • How serious a problem do you think discrimination in the workplace is in this country?

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 4,274 1,971 2,303
    Very serious
    33%

    29%

    39%

    Somewhat serious
    35%

    33%

    37%

    Not so serious
    22%

    25%

    18%

    Not at all serious
    9%

    13%

    5%

    No answer
    1%

    1%

    1%

    Question wording: How serious a problem do you think discrimination in the workplace is in this country?
    Survey dates: 
  • Do you think discrimination in the workplace is:

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 4,274 1,971 2,303
    Getting better
    51%

    54%

    47%

    About the same as always
    38%

    36%

    40%

    Getting worse
    10%

    10%

    11%

    No answer
    1%

    1%

    1%

    Question wording: Do you think discrimination in the workplace is:
    Survey dates: 
  • Which of the following would you be comfortable joking with a coworker about? (Select all that apply)

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 4,274 1,971 2,303
    None of the above
    56%

    50%

    63%

    The appearance of a celebrity
    28%

    34%

    21%

    My own race
    25%

    31%

    19%

    The appearance of a politician
    25%

    32%

    17%

    My own gender
    24%

    29%

    18%

    Someone of my own sexual orientation
    16%

    22%

    10%

    Another gender
    13%

    16%

    9%

    Another race
    11%

    16%

    5%

    Someone of a different sexual orientation
    9%

    13%

    5%

    The appearance of another person in the office
    8%

    12%

    4%

    No answer
    2%

    2%

    2%

    Question wording: Which of the following would you be comfortable joking with a coworker about? (Select all that apply)
    Survey dates: 
  • Which of the following interactions have you experienced in the workplace? A coworker…(Select all that apply).

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 4,274 1,971 2,303
    None of the above
    34%

    35%

    32%

    Addressing me in an unprofessional way
    30%

    30%

    29%

    Telling me I’m well-spoken
    29%

    31%

    27%

    Talking over me in a meeting
    28%

    28%

    29%

    Repeating my idea and presenting it as their own
    24%

    24%

    24%

    Asking about my dating life
    24%

    24%

    24%

    Making a positive comment about my body
    23%

    21%

    26%

    Asking about my qualifications
    22%

    25%

    19%

    Mistaking me for someone in a role lower than mine
    18%

    18%

    18%

    Making demeaning remarks about people like me
    16%

    18%

    15%

    Making a negative comment about my body
    16%

    18%

    14%

    Delegating note-taking to me
    10%

    9%

    12%

    Asking me to get coffee for them
    7%

    7%

    8%

    No answer
    2%

    2%

    2%

    Question wording: Which of the following interactions have you experienced in the workplace? A coworker…(Select all that apply).
    Survey dates: 
  • Which of the following interactions would upset you, or did upset you if they happened to you? A coworker…(Select all that apply).

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 4,274 1,971 2,303
    Repeating my idea and presenting it as their own
    49%

    45%

    52%

    Addressing me in an unprofessional way
    45%

    39%

    50%

    Making demeaning remarks about people like me
    44%

    40%

    49%

    Talking over me in a meeting
    42%

    37%

    47%

    Making a negative comment about my body
    39%

    30%

    48%

    None of the above
    27%

    31%

    24%

    Asking me to get coffee for them
    24%

    22%

    25%

    Asking about my qualifications
    19%

    16%

    22%

    Asking about my dating life
    19%

    14%

    24%

    Delegating note-taking to me
    15%

    13%

    18%

    Mistaking me for someone in a role lower than mine
    13%

    11%

    16%

    Making a positive comment about my body
    11%

    5%

    18%

    Telling me I’m well-spoken
    4%

    3%

    4%

    No answer
    4%

    4%

    4%

    Question wording: Which of the following interactions would upset you, or did upset you if they happened to you? A coworker…(Select all that apply).
    Survey dates: 
  • Which of these actions did or would make you consider leaving your job?

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 3,090 1,329 1,761
    None of the above
    48%

    50%

    46%

    Addressing me in an unprofessional way
    28%

    25%

    30%

    Making demeaning remarks about people like me
    27%

    24%

    31%

    Repeating my idea and presenting it as their own
    25%

    23%

    26%

    Making a negative comment about my body
    15%

    11%

    19%

    Talking over me in a meeting
    10%

    9%

    12%

    Asking me to get coffee for them
    7%

    8%

    6%

    Asking about my qualifications
    6%

    5%

    6%

    Asking about my dating life
    5%

    4%

    6%

    Making a positive comment about my body
    4%

    2%

    6%

    Delegating note-taking to me
    4%

    3%

    5%

    Mistaking me for someone in a role lower than mine
    2%

    3%

    2%

    Telling me I’m well-spoken
    1%

    1%

    1%

    No answer
    2%

    1%

    2%

    Question wording: Which of these actions did or would make you consider leaving your job?
    Survey dates: 
  • Thinking about where you work now, has HR or senior leadership at your company ever acknowledged the existence of microaggressions (whether in general or specifically at your company)?

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 4,274 1,971 2,303
    Yes
    20%

    19%

    21%

    No
    40%

    42%

    39%

    Not sure
    38%

    38%

    37%

    No answer
    2%

    1%

    2%

    Question wording: Thinking about where you work now, has HR or senior leadership at your company ever acknowledged the existence of microaggressions (whether in general or specifically at your company)?
    Survey dates: 
  • Have you personally witnessed a microaggression in the workplace?

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 4,274 1,971 2,303
    Yes
    36%

    34%

    38%

    No
    39%

    40%

    38%

    Not sure
    24%

    25%

    22%

    No answer
    2%

    2%

    2%

    Question wording: Have you personally witnessed a microaggression in the workplace?
    Survey dates: 
  • What identities have you seen negatively affected by a microaggression? (Select all that apply)

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 2,617 1,145 1,472
    Race
    41%

    37%

    46%

    Age
    40%

    39%

    42%

    Physical appearance
    38%

    37%

    40%

    Gender
    38%

    35%

    42%

    Sexual orientation
    31%

    30%

    32%

    Education
    28%

    29%

    27%

    Religion
    23%

    24%

    22%

    Socioeconomic status
    20%

    19%

    21%

    Disability
    18%

    17%

    20%

    Veteran status
    6%

    8%

    5%

    Other (please specify)
    12%

    13%

    11%

    No answer
    14%

    16%

    12%

    Question wording: What identities have you seen negatively affected by a microaggression? (Select all that apply)
    Survey dates: 
  • Do you think that you have committed a microaggression in the workplace?

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 4,274 1,971 2,303
    Yes
    10%

    13%

    7%

    No
    62%

    59%

    66%

    Not sure
    26%

    27%

    24%

    No answer
    2%

    1%

    2%

    Question wording: Do you think that you have committed a microaggression in the workplace?
    Survey dates: 
  • Have you experienced a microaggression against yourself in the workplace?

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 4,274 1,971 2,303
    Yes
    26%

    23%

    29%

    No
    51%

    52%

    49%

    Not sure
    22%

    23%

    20%

    No answer
    2%

    2%

    3%

    Question wording: Have you experienced a microaggression against yourself in the workplace?
    Survey dates: 
  • Which of your identities were put down with a microaggression? (Select all that apply)

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 1,239 476 763
    Gender
    35%

    21%

    48%

    Age
    33%

    30%

    35%

    Physical appearance
    31%

    33%

    30%

    Race
    30%

    37%

    23%

    Education
    22%

    25%

    20%

    Socioeconomic status
    15%

    18%

    12%

    Religion
    15%

    21%

    10%

    Sexual orientation
    13%

    18%

    8%

    Disability
    8%

    10%

    7%

    Veteran status
    5%

    8%

    2%

    Other (please specify)
    13%

    12%

    14%

    No answer
    8%

    8%

    7%

    Question wording: Which of your identities were put down with a microaggression? (Select all that apply)
    Survey dates: 
  • Thinking of the same experience, what did you do in response? (Select all that apply)

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 1,239 476 763
    Called them out at the time
    31%

    31%

    31%

    Nothing
    31%

    32%

    29%

    Spoke to them after the fact
    20%

    22%

    19%

    Consider leaving the company
    16%

    17%

    16%

    Reported the incident to their manager
    16%

    14%

    18%

    Reported the incident to HR
    11%

    11%

    11%

    Leave the company
    10%

    9%

    11%

    Other (please specify)
    12%

    12%

    13%

    No answer
    5%

    6%

    5%

    Question wording: Thinking of the same experience, what did you do in response? (Select all that apply)
    Survey dates: 
  • Did the person apologize?

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 1,239 476 763
    Yes
    21%

    23%

    19%

    No
    73%

    71%

    75%

    No answer
    6%

    6%

    6%

    Question wording: Did the person apologize?
    Survey dates: 
  • Was their apology acceptable to you?

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 238 102 136
    Yes
    83%

    86%

    79%

    No
    17%

    14%

    21%

    No answer
    0%

    0%

    0%

    Question wording: Was their apology acceptable to you?
    Survey dates: 
  • What do you want to happen to someone in the workplace who commits a microaggression? (Select all that apply).

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 4,274 1,971 2,303
    Their manager should talk to them
    47%

    43%

    53%

    HR should talk to them
    40%

    36%

    44%

    They should attend mediation or anti-bias training
    27%

    21%

    32%

    The person they offended should talk to them later
    16%

    17%

    16%

    The person that they offended should call them out then and there
    16%

    16%

    14%

    Someone else should call them out then and there
    11%

    11%

    11%

    Nothing
    11%

    14%

    6%

    Someone else should talk to them later
    10%

    11%

    10%

    They should be fired
    9%

    8%

    10%

    Other (please specify)
    9%

    11%

    8%

    No answer
    5%

    5%

    6%

    Question wording: What do you want to happen to someone in the workplace who commits a microaggression? (Select all that apply).
    Survey dates: 
  • Do you think someone who commits a microaggression should be required to apologize?

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 4,274 1,971 2,303
    Yes
    67%

    59%

    76%

    No
    27%

    35%

    18%

    No answer
    6%

    6%

    6%

    Question wording: Do you think someone who commits a microaggression should be required to apologize?
    Survey dates: 
  • Do you think it makes a difference if a microaggression is committed by a peer or a senior person?

    Gender
    Answer Total Male Female
    Unweighted N 4,274 1,971 2,303
    Much worse if a peer
    4%

    4%

    4%

    Somewhat worse if a peer
    3%

    3%

    3%

    No difference
    57%

    57%

    57%

    Somewhat worse if a senior person
    14%

    15%

    12%

    Much worse if a senior person
    16%

    15%

    18%

    No answer
    6%

    6%

    6%

    Question wording: Do you think it makes a difference if a microaggression is committed by a peer or a senior person?
    Survey dates: