The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2021

40 JULY-AUGUST 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Charles Morrill is a State Department management- coned Foreign Service officer currently serving as the human resources division chief for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and the Bureau of International Organization Affairs. Overseas, he has served in Niger, Albania, Gabon, Uganda, Cameroon and Honduras. RootingOut Microaggressions What does exclusion look like? An FSO explores the concept of microaggressions— and suggests how shining a light on them can help foster a culture of inclusion. BY CHARL ES MORR I L L W ithout a doubt, the treat- ment of women and minor- ities in the Foreign Service has come a long way over the past few decades. But the fight for equal treat- ment is not over, and root- ing out microaggressions is the next step. According to the Department of State’s Office of the Histo- rian, it was not until the 1960s that women and minorities were given meaningful opportunities to serve their country in the State Department and other foreign affairs agencies. A half-cen- tury after the ending of overtly discriminatory practices, far too many employees report that they still “pick up a vibe” that they are not welcome or don’t feel like valued members of the team. This vibe is what microaggressions are all about: subtle snubs, slights and invalidations that have the cumulative effect of making members of minority groups feel isolated, unworthy and unwelcome. Unchecked, microaggressions can impinge on the performance of the victim, lead to possible conduct issues and result in higher turnover among minority employees. On his first day in office, President Joe Biden started to make good on a campaign promise to make the federal workplace a more inclusive place by issuing executive orders to expand antidiscrimination practices and restore diversity awareness training. But to recruit and retain a Foreign Service that fully reflects the American people, this training must include a better under- standing of microaggressions and the role they play in creating a noninclusive culture. That knowledge, in turn, should equip the victims of such treatment to defend themselves and empower allies to speak up. Death by a Thousand Cuts The term “microaggressions” has been around since the 1970s, coined by an African American professor at Harvard named Chester Pierce, who first defined them as subtle, nonver- bal “putdowns.” While initially the focus was on racial microag- gressions, the term has since been expanded to include both verbal and nonverbal acts against any marginalized group. In this context, “micro” does not refer to being small or innocu- ous, but rather underscores the pervasiveness and difficulty of identifying and detecting these offenses. In their seminal book, Microaggressions in Everyday Life (Wiley, 2010), Derald Wing Sue and Lisa Spanierman define FOCUS PERSPECTIVES ON DIVERSITY & INCLUSION