Microinequalities – what they are and how to spot them

Author: Dawn Bonfield

Date published

11 August 2020

Back to Previous

Microinequalities – what they are and how to spot them

Date published

11 August 2020

Author

Dawn Bonfield

Author

Dawn Bonfield

In this blog post, Dawn Bonfield discusses microinequalities. She explains what they are and how they disproportionally affect people in minority or under-represented groups.

What are microinequalities?

Microinequalities are usually small, seemingly insignificant and often unremarkable behaviours. For the recipient they can accumulate over time to create a much bigger problem. They have been described as ‘like being tapped on the arm. At first you don’t notice it, but then you start to notice it, and before too long the tapping is driving you so insane that you are unable to stand it any longer’. 

For the protagonist, these behaviours often represent the tip of the iceberg. They are actions that can be seen and felt but can indicate unconscious bias.

Microinequalities may also be called microagressions depending on the perceived intention of the inequality in question.


Examples of microinequalities

Think of the things that might stop you or a colleague feeling included in your workplace:

  • People interrupt you frequently, or your ideas get taken without reference to you during a team meeting

  • If you are one of very few black or ethnic minority engineers in your office and people keep getting your name wrong, or mixing you up with another black employee

  • If you are a female engineer and you constantly hear engineers being referred to as ‘he’, and doubting your technical ability

  • People assume that because you have a family you will not be interested in certain opportunities

  • If you are in a single sex partnership and are afraid to talk about your partner because you have heard your colleagues make homophobic remarks

These are all examples of more obvious microinequalities. However, they can also be much smaller than this, and include things like:

  • Tone of voice

  • Well-meaning but unwanted comments about your clothes or looks

  • Colleagues blanking you on passing


Why do microinequalites matter?

They can cause people to feel excluded in their workplace and recipients are often in minority or under-represented groups. Experiencing microinequalities can lead to people leaving the profession. This means personal distress as well as vital skills and experience being lost.

But we can change this. These behaviours are visible and they are real. Because of this we can start to understand and address them and hopefully break down some of the biases.

You can find out more about tools to deal with microinequalities in my accompanying blog. 


About the author

Dawn Bonfield MBE HonFIStructE is Director of Towards Vision and a Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor of Inclusive Engineering at Aston University.


 

Related Resources & Events

<h4>Faith Wainwright FIStructE - President's Address 2018</h4>

Faith Wainwright FIStructE - President's Address 2018

Faith's address sets out her vision for working together for a creative and collaborative future.

Date - 12 January 2018
Price - Free
Jo da Silva, 2017 IStructE Gold Medallist

Jo da Silva FIStructE - Gold Medal Address 2017

Jo reflects on her own career and looks ahead to 2050, discussing the role structural engineers play in creating safe, sustainable, inclusive and resilient cities.

Date - 2 February 2018
Price - Free
Kate Leighton

Using brain power to make the world a better place

Kate Leighton FIStructE discusses her career, motherhood, structural engineering and why we need more women engineers.

Date - 23 June 2017
Author - Kate Leighton
Price - Free