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October 29, 2019
3 Ways To Address The ‘Invisible’ Work Phenomenon You Never Knew Existed
Alex Csedrik

Organizations are actively striving to create a more heterogeneous staff. According to McKinsey & Co.’s Women in the Workforce 2019 report, 87 percent of companies are committed to a gender-diverse workforce—up from 56 percent in 2012.

While this intention is commendable, there are diversity and inclusion issues that still need to be addressed: Social psychologists Amanda K. Sesko and Monica Biernat found that nearly one-fifth of women of color report feeling “invisible” at work because their ideas and words during meetings are less likely to be attributed to the employee or remembered.

This unintentional act of making minority women workers feel unnoticed is a type of microaggression. (Psychologist Derald Wing Sue defines a microaggression as everyday acts—purposeful or not—that communicate a hostile message to marginalized people.) Not correctly attributing someone’s ideas or misremembering their words may not be intentional, but the act prevents creating an inclusive workforce.   

We spoke with Kamillah Knight, the Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Unilever, to better understand this “invisible” phenomenon, and to learn what steps your company can take to prevent it. Here are three ways you can make sure all your employees are visible.

1. Hold Open Forums For Employee Feedback

Knight encourages organizations to create a platform for all employees to voice their opinions. “As a black woman and a D&I professional, I recommend companies create forums that allow all employees—especially minority ones—to have space where their ideas are heard,” Knight said.

These meetings can be company-wide town halls or held by affinity groups. The point of them, regardless of the forum, is to give all staff members a safe space to give constructive feedback on how the organization can improve its D&I efforts.

2. Look To The Obama Administration For A Solution

Philosopher Edmund Burke famously said, “Those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” In the case of workplace invisibility, you only have to go back to the past U.S. president for a solution.

Women in the Obama administration refused to let men take credit for their ideas or ignore their contributions. According to the Washington Post, they took matters into their own hands by working together strategically. During meetings, women used a technique they called “amplification” to reinforce each other’s ideas: Whenever a woman came up with an idea, the other women in the meeting would continually repeat the point and attribute it to their female colleague.

“Amplification” prevented male counterparts from either claiming a female employee’s point as his own—or from ignoring their contributions completely. Your leaders can easily mimic this by immediately pointing out and accurately attributing any suggestions made to the staff member who makes it. This will help make all employees visible.   

3. Solicit Feedback From Potential—And Future—Workers

Another way to avoid perpetuating the “invisible” phenomenon is to find out the extent of the problem. You can do this by soliciting feedback during the recruitment process to understand what outsiders of your organization experience.

“Why not survey the people your organization is recruiting—the ones who do take the time to engage with your company—to see how you can make the process better?” Knight asks. “It will allow you to understand the dynamics of how your workers interact with different people.” 

These surveys shouldn’t just be for candidates, either. You should also ask your current employees to share their opinions, too. “If there’s a case where employees don’t feel comfortable sharing their opinions in front of an audience because their managers or leaders might retaliate if a worker is too honest, companies can host anonymous surveys,” Knight adds. “These give organizations an opportunity to get real feedback from their staff.”

Becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization comes down to honesty—and a willingness to change. “No company is perfect,” Knight says. “The D&I landscape is changing every day—and we’re all trying to learn and do better.”

Want to learn how your organization can avoid committing other microaggressions? Check out our blog for the second piece in this two-part series!

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