MICHELLE LAM: Hi, everyone, and thank you for tuning in to our TD Securities podcast titled Fostering an Inclusive Workplace. This episode is called Understanding Microaggressions and Their Impact. I am Michelle Lam, a VP in Global Counterparty Credit. And I'm hosting this podcast with Marvin Au, a director in prime services.
MARVIN AU: Hello, everyone. I'm Marvin. And we're joined here today by Dr. Gervan Fearon, a distinguished professor and current president of George Brown College. Dr. Fearon is committed to diversity and inclusion and is the recipient of many awards for teaching excellence as well as the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his community engagement activities. Hello, Dr. Fearon.
GERVAN FEARON: Hello. Thank you for having me here as well and contributing to this conversation.
MICHELLE LAM: So as a bit of background, in the wake of COVID-19, there was a significant rise in anti-Asian hate, which led to the creation of the Safe Spaces Initiative hosted by the Minorities in Leadership Committee, where TD colleagues could speak freely on the subject. While those conversations first focused on overt racism that is typically visible and well known, the topic of microaggressions arose. And so this podcast was born with the intent of educating people about microaggressions, their impact, and how we can work together to foster a more inclusive workplace.
MARVIN AU: Let's start by defining what microaggressions is. It is the everyday slights, indignities, put downs, and insults that members of a marginalized group experience in their day-to-day interactions with the people. This definition is actually a widely accepted definition written by Dr. Derald Wing Sue, who's a subject matter expertise and a psychology professor at Columbia.
And to start, to help everyone understand, we would like to share some firsthand examples submitted by TD colleagues, as we feel these powerfully illustrate what microaggressions are. Please note that we've adjusted some part of the examples to protect the identities of the colleagues. And of course, this is not a concept unique to TD. Microaggressions are present in everyday workplace. Learning more about the topic will assist us in the goal of fostering a more inclusive culture here at TD.
MICHELLE LAM: Exactly. Thanks a lot, Marvin. One submission was regarding being spoken to in an assumed native language, despite never indicating that they spoke the language or that they've spoken it out loud. For example, greeting an Asian person with Japanese greeting konnichiwa, without knowing if they speak Japanese or are of Japanese descent. So this is an example of the alien in your own land microaggression theme.
Another submission was regarding backhanded compliments. For example, asking a Black woman whether she has looked into straightening treatments for her hair after she straightened it once. This made her feel as if her hair being naturally curly is unusual, exotic, or not normal, while other groups are viewed as a collective.
Lastly, one submission was regarding incorrectly assuming someone who is brown is Indian. The implication being that those who are not visible minorities are seen as individuals, while other groups are viewed as a collective where race or ethnicity define who they are.
Another implication is that people of a race other than your own all look the same. This makes visible minorities feel invisible and like they don't belong.
MARVIN AU: These examples are all very powerful. And as we mentioned, they are small slights which many people may just dismiss them or as the victim being paranoid. And the perpetrator may not realize they're doing it. Dr. Fearon, we're interested in what your thoughts about the definition of microaggressions are within the work context and what your thoughts are about the examples that Michelle just provided.
GERVAN FEARON: Well, thank you very much for both the examples and the definition. And I believe it gives a really important context to your colleagues and individuals in the workplace as to what is the definition and context of microaggressions.
And as was defined, it was pointing to the suggestion that microaggressions relate to everyday slights, indignities, put downs, and even insults that members of marginalized communities and groups may experience on a day-to-day basis within the workplace and with their interaction with others.
So at a fundamental level, I agree with the definition that was given. But I should also make mention that what we shouldn't consider to be something acceptable is that these experiences of microaggressions that they should not be day-to-day. They should not be then commonplace within the workplace. Clearly, individuals who are subject to microaggressions within the workplace will have a sense that their contributions to the organization, their creativity, their innovation, that is less than valued and less than respected and that they are less than respected as individuals.
And consequently, then, it undermines the effectiveness of teams. It also undermines the kind of collegiality and respectfulness in the workplace. Ultimately, all of these items then turn up in terms of challenging the kind of productivity, creativity, and even the profitability of organizations, as well as our placement of our organizations and team within the broader context of society.
So yes, I agree with the definition. Commonplace, hopefully that's not true. And that's not what we strive towards either.
MICHELLE LAM: And that's a fantastic point. And we hope that this podcast raises awareness about microaggressions. And hopefully, then, the everyday slights will be reduced from being so everyday.
To our next question, there are a number of widely accepted themes of racial microaggressions. One which I mentioned was alien in your own land. Dr. Fearon, I was wondering, can you comment on the themes you think appear most commonly in the workplace?
GERVAN FEARON: Sure. And interestingly enough, as I think about some of the themes that you had, in fact, I would actually say that nearly every single one of those themes that you have appear in the workplace-- and I don't think that there's necessarily a specific emphasis. But I do believe it's useful, because you've provided the examples to individuals, that they look through those themes that were presented and be able to ask themself, were they subject to any of those examples or themes? Or were they also individuals who, whether deliberately or inadvertently, exhibited some of those microaggressions towards others?
The other item I think that, as I reflected on some of the considerations that you had there, was a recognition that in some senses we're all subject to some of those experiences. As an individual who also comes from a minority community, a visible minority community-- so for those of you who are listening to the podcast, I am Black. I'm a Black Canadian, in that regard. And like all of us, I likely could go through a list of intersectionalities that have commonalities with others and have differentiation with others as well.
But one of the challenges of microaggressions in that sense is that it does call upon the individual to ask themselves, what do they do in the wake of a microaggression? So maybe I should give you an example of my own experiences. And I'll actually give two examples.
One example, and it's interesting, because I was actually in Ottawa and staying at a local hotel at a number of meetings. Some of you will know I'm president of George Brown College, but I've also been president of two Canadian universities as well.
So while standing waiting for a taxi at the hotel, someone came up to me and said, could you please get me a cab? And in that moment, I politely indicated that I'm waiting for one too, myself.
Now, I can't make any statement about the individual's assumption in that sense, why they said that. However, that surely was not a esteem-building moment in that regard. It wasn't in the workplace. But in that regard, it's an example of what can happen.
Another example that I'll provide to you is a very long time ago. But I can remember being a student and going for a teaching assistantship and asking for a teaching assistantship, which was a normal procedure. And the response I got was, you would get one in September if you're still here. And noting I was doing some summer courses.
Well, clearly, I got my PhD. I got my master's, so on. I actually taught even while I was finishing up my masters and so forth. So clearly, I was still there.
But again, that was not esteem-building. And we need to take a look at those kinds of situations in the workplace to make sure that we're not diminishing our colleagues. Because we'll be depending on our colleagues for our overall success.
The other point I would like to make on this is it does then require-- how do we resolve those items? And do we push back? What do we do?
And what I would suggest is the importance of making sure that even when we disagree with how we're treated, that we're polite ourselves, and respectful, and attempting to resolve the challenge as opposed to aggravate or add to it. And noting that we, too, can model behavior in treating others with dignity and respect in the workplace and as well as building strong teams for success.
MARVIN AU: Thank you so much, Dr. Fearon. There is a concept of mediating social capital. Employees might feel there's a limited amount of social capital, and they don't want to waste it on certain colleagues as a result. And usually, they choose to ignore certain situations, rather than confront the aggressor.
How can microaggressions impact someone's self-esteem? And how can it dent someone's confidence, make them feel invisible, and affect the career trajectory, Dr. Fearon?
GERVAN FEARON: So I think that if we stand back and we ask ourselves, what does a successful team look like-- and I think that successful teams are those teams that are able to draw out the best of each other, to be able to then recognize what is the-- let's call it the team capital, the team capacity, the team assets.
And in that regard, the idea of microaggression, in effect, those kinds of actions actually diminish the team's capacity and team's ability to be able to meet the challenges that we face in all organizations as well as the challenges of being highly competitive and highly innovative. What that also means then is that microaggressions can actually cause teams to start using the wrong kinds of social capital.
Rather than using the social capital and the capacity of the team to be creative, and develop innovative ideas, and meet client needs, and add to the value proposition of the organization, that team then starts marginalizing individuals and causing those individuals to use that social capital, their assets, to be in problem resolution between interpersonal communication mode.
And that can go all kinds of directions. It could go in a direction where that's positive and the issues get resolved. Or it could go in a direction that gets escalated. It could also cause a scenario that others who are coming into the organization are trying to define out, what are the social norms of that organization?
And consequently, the idea of microaggression can get normalized. And as a result, individuals who are now joining the organization or who are being onboarded are now starting to believe that is a normal conduct or a way that you get social capital and acceptance within the organization and start replicating and propagating a behavior that will actually be counterproductive in the long run in terms of collegiality and the like.
So I think that, particularly in the financial services sector, quite often we understate the talent capacity of the organization and its talent capital. And items that diminish or destroy talent capital, social capital, group cohesion and its ability to actually deliver on results, by definition, doesn't generate the kind of results that we, in the long run, want.
So I think that the idea of social capital is important in this context. But also the idea of microaggressions as being something that destroys social capital is something that we should be cognizant of. Thank you.
MICHELLE LAM: That's a great point, Gervan. So I think we have to be aware of the impact that microaggressions have on social capital and make sure it doesn't become woven into the fabric of TD so that, as new employees join, they don't feel that it's OK to say these types of things to other colleagues, and they don't believe it's part of the norm.
Looking forward, from the perspective of an employer, can you discuss the impact of microaggressions on talent retention, strategic positioning, CSR brand reputation on organizations? Or in other words, discuss the concept of this being a shared obligation?
GERVAN FEARON: Sure. I think that when we take a look at organizations-- and I think this would be absolutely true for TD-- that it's really worthwhile each individual taking a moment to take a look at the mission, the vision, and the values of the organization. And I think that the Canadian financial services sector-- you are global leaders as a result, not only in terms of your own context. But it means that firms throughout Canadian landscape are looking at you to be able to set some of their own context of their own brand, their own reputational framework in that sense.
What we know has been an increasing reality for the corporate world-- and I use corporate both for private and public in that context-- is corporate social responsibility. And included in that is, of course, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Of course, we know that there's been a growing consideration around environmental and social responsibility and how all of that is woven into not only the corporate governance, but also the brand and the goodwill of the organization.
What that means then is that microaggression is generally not only felt by the individual who's the recipient of those microaggressions, but there could be third party watching on. And that then means that they will ask themselves, is this the kind of brand that I want to partner with? Is this a brand I want to be associated with?
Similarly, individuals in terms of competition in the marketplace for outstanding talent-- we have to recognize that individuals are mobile, and also mobile not at a local level, but at a global level. And if TD is going to be able to maintain the kind of talent and attract the kind of talent that will make it maintain its success in the marketplace at a global level, then it needs to have a work environment that is nurturing and supportive of all its people and all its talent. And consequently, then, the idea of addressing issues of microaggression is not only an individual one, but it really is about the overall strategic positioning of the organization within the workplace.
Next, I think all of us, if we take a look at a balance sheet-- just as a by the way, I've got an accounting designation, as well as I'm sure many of you and your colleagues in the bank does. And consequently, I basically say, remember that goodwill shows up on your balance sheet.
And that means then if you're taking action that blows away your goodwill, then you're destroying an asset. And I don't think that anyone would accept individuals going around and taking a hammer and smashing in a wall in the workplace. And microaggression destroys goodwill.
And in that sense, in an era of social media where anyone can post anything at any moment, destroying goodwill for your organization is probably not what you want to achieve. And consequently, taking microaggression as a serious diminisher of talent retention, strategic positioning, your CSR, all those items, is warranted.
So it's not something where you go, oh, this is just somebody that's overly sensitive, and they need to be concerned about it themselves. No, this is about the strategy and how we all interact as individuals on team to build strong organizations that will stand at a global level and we can be proud about as individuals here in Canada or at a global level, global citizens, about what we're implying in terms of our brand and reputation as an organization and as team members.
MARVIN AU: I love that concept of goodwill being on the balance sheet. And we don't want to dismiss or diminish the assets we have at TD. Clearly, microaggressions have a huge impact on any organization.
Dr. Fearon, can you share some advice on specific tactical approach in addressing microaggression, ways to support victims in dealing with microaggressions?
GERVAN FEARON: What I would say-- and I'll provide some advice. But to then recognize that any advice is not necessarily applicable to everybody in every situation. And I think that individuals being able to ask about their own situation is important and to be able to contextualize my advice in the respect that there are overarching-- and then specific approaches need to be tailored to the individual.
And just before I start in, to note that we are all subject to when microaggression comes at us, it does hurt. And it's important to acknowledge that. And that can hurt at different levels and have different impacts.
And as well, that just as our physical health is important, our mental health is important. And just as at time if I broke my arm, I might have advice for you. But seeing a qualified professional to assist you with that would be appropriate. Similarly, with microaggressions, if it is getting to the point where you do feel that it really is affecting your health, seeking professional advice and assistance and support may be appropriate as well.
But answering your question, why don't I go with a couple of points of advice as well. The first one I mentioned before is just acknowledging microaggressions can hurt and can hurt others. And that's important then for us all to remember, regardless of which side of a microaggression that we stand, or even if we're standing as bystanders in that sense.
I think it's also important to recognize that one also has to have long term goals. And we need to have long term and short term goals, as well as strategies for protecting our own self-esteem, as well as strategies for problem resolution, whether it's about microaggressions or other considerations in the workplace.
So for an individual who may be facing microaggressions, I think that it is helpful if managers, and directors, and others are open to team members coming to them and saying, I think I was subject to a microaggression. And I've got concerns. And that way, at least it becomes a moment where there can be dialogue about microaggressions as well.
But I think what you're doing at TD in this podcast and in this session is really important. Because what it also does, it educates us all about microaggressions. And it also allows us to be inspectful of our own behavior as well as our own reaction to microaggressions.
Next, I would suggest that, in attempting to resolve a microaggression, if an individual is subject to a microaggression, then taking that moment to respectfully, politely, but clearly indicate to that other individual who is perpetrating the microaggression that-- to be able to say to them that, in your belief, that you believe that their statement or actions reflect what would be defined as a microaggression and to ask them if they understand or intended that to be a microaggression.
And the reason why I say that is I think it's also important-- a microaggression infers action, mostly intentional, but sometimes unintentional. And that means, then, that you're also being respectful and polite, but clear in being able to resolve the challenge, noting that sometimes individuals are using language or cultural context to be able to-- as openers for conversation. They're hoping for a conversation, and they're hoping for a commonality.
So I'll use my own example. I worked in the US for a little while, a couple of times, actually, both in Philadelphia and in Seattle. I worked for a forecasting company firm in Philadelphia, and I was a visiting scholar at the University of Washington.
And I can remember when individuals found out that I was Canadian, I was from Canada. It was surprising how many people would come up to me and say, did I watch the hockey game? And who did I support, and so forth. They were, in many regards, assuming I liked hockey.
I have to tell you, I am a dying Leaf fan, and I go back all the way to Keon. So they were right. But at the same time, they were making an assumption that I actually watch or like hockey.
I could give you another item. I actually didn't make the grade six hockey team. So that was painful. In some senses, I might say, why did you ask me that? What assumptions are you making? Maybe I like basketball. Maybe I like cricket, because I was born in England. So my comment is that their intentionality, though, was literally to find a common bond to start a conversation. So being able to politely query the intentionality can also resolve the issue.
However, upon expressing that you consider it a microaggression and that you consider it offensive, if it persists, I think it's really important, then, to be able to bring concerns, again, to a manager or to a director to get a third party to be able to assist as well in being able to take a look at how those items can be resolved.
Again, we may want to ask ourselves, now, what happens if it continues to persist? I think that the opportunity to be able to have a team meeting about these issues and not necessarily to point out an individual, but to have a discussion around microaggressions and how it diminishes the retention of talent, how it diminishes the capacity of the team and the outcomes.
And in that sense, not dissimilar to the podcast, you're helping to educate. Your helping to open up dialogue. And you're helping to have a workplace that's reflective.
But also I think, finally, it's to recognize we all have interrelationships between each other. We all have intersectionality of one sense or another. Cultural backgrounds are sometimes assumptive in that regard. So a microaggression could even be a statement to someone about a third party. You don't know their relationships with others and how they may interpret it.
So I think a good practice in the workplace is simply to ask ourselves, are we treating each other with dignity and respect and a sense of being valued? And if we could use some of those items as a foundation and look at the value statement of TD, look at the mission, look at your overall direction that you're trying to build in terms of goodwill and emphasize those as a starting point, then I think that really becomes helpful at addressing microaggressions for all of us.
MARVIN AU: Those are all really great points and fantastic. And thanks, Dr. Fearon. And just a little extra piece of advice for any victims of microaggression. Be kind to yourself. You're not alone, and you're not being paranoid.
As Dr. Fearon said, speak to someone about it. Speak to a colleague, a friend, or a family member, or even your people manager, if you're comfortable. You can also reach out to our Employee and Family Assistance Program, who can provide confidential advice and support.
Well, thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Fearon. Your insight really resonated with us, for Michelle and myself, and I'm sure with our listeners as well.
GERVAN FEARON: Thank you so much for the opportunity to have this engagement and to make a contribution to your organization and your colleagues as well. Thank you so much to both of you.
MICHELLE LAM: Again, Dr. Fearon. I think just as we wrap up, one key takeaway is that this isn't just about individuals, but about the organization as a whole. And I know Dr. Fearon touched on that a number of times. But we do all have a responsibility to uphold a diverse and inclusive workplace.
If you have any comments or would like to chat about today's topic, please reach out to Marvin or myself. You can also reach out to Minorities in Leadership Committee in the US the VisMin Committee in Canada.