Bystanders Respond to Microaggressions to Develop Welcoming and Inclusive Workplaces

Figure 1 Photograph by Yan Krukov from Pexels. CCO.
Figure 1 Photograph by Yan Krukov from Pexels. CCO.

Submitted by: Michelle Haynes-Baratz & Meg Bond


Repeated exposure to microaggressions can have a negative impact on psychological and physical health.
Expanding collective organizational capacity to address bias in respectful ways (by promoting active bystanders) has been shown to have an empowering impact and to foster more equitable workplaces.

Microaggressions are daily slights and indignities experienced by individuals based on their marginalized social identity(ies). While any one expression may be seemingly harmless, there is ample evidence that repeatedly experiencing microaggressions can have a negative impact on one’s psychological and physical health as well as on job satisfaction, work productivity and turnover rates.

Furthermore, microaggressions are considered risk factors for more blatant forms of harassment within organizational contexts.

“We underscore the importance of a systems-change approach to the development and implementation of [a] bystander [training] program. Finding ways to address microaggressions using a systemic approach has transformative potential for the workplace…through activating bystanders in the local context.”

As such, it is critical to address issues of bias for general worker health and for preventing future transgressions that can be even more harmful.

Bystander approaches hold tremendous promise for addressing such bias, particularly when they are embedded in a broader institutional change effort. We describe a peer lead Bystander Training program, “Get A (collective) GRIP©,” to address microaggressions. The goals of the training are to: 1) develop individual level skill sets for interrupting bias, and (perhaps more importantly) 2) create collective accountability for addressing bias thereby leveraging an organizational cultural shift.

How Did A Community Psychology Perspective Inform Your Work?

Our approach is informed by four social-ecological principles:

1) Attending to critical differentials in access to power and other resources — understanding how the historical and current distribution of power and other resources among organizational members both constrains and opens up opportunities for individual and collective action; and recognizing the social structural forces and hierarchies that are at play in creating and sustaining inequities.

2) Appreciating interdependencies — understanding that people within an organization are continually adapting to one another and that organizational culture shapes individual behavior while it is simultaneously shaped by it.

3) Adopting a phenomenological perspective — foregrounding individuals’ lived experiences, thus attending to the impact of bias on targets over the inferred intentions of transgressors.

4) Understanding behavior as nested in multiple levels of analysis — attending to how behavior is affected by individual, interpersonal, organizational, and broader societal factors.

Promoting active bystander behavior to address marginalizing behaviors is most impactful when we recognize the contextual, structural, and political dynamics that sustain the exclusion of minoritized groups in the first place. When embedded in a systems-change approach, bystanders have the potential to interrupt bias in the workplace and promote organizational norms and practices of equity and respect.


We apply a social-ecological lens to highlight four principles that are relevant to a systemic approach to workplace bias. A case example is provided to illustrate the “Get A (Collective) GRIP©” framework for addressing microaggressions and activating bystander actions.


  • Our bystander intervention has resulted in a climate shift towards improved norms for respect, equity, and inclusion.
  • Social-ecological principles inform a systems-change approach for activating bystanders, who in turn, can attenuate the harmful impacts of microaggressions.
  • Attention to both the context and substance of bystander training is critical to its preventive potential.

What Does This Mean For?

Research and Evaluation: This work is a call to scholars to consider adopting and evaluating systemic approaches by mitigating subtle bias in organizational contexts, and to do so through the activation of active bystanders within larger organizational change efforts.

Practice: In many organizations, the dominant approaches to dealing with bias and discrimination are after-the-fact mechanisms for reporting and seeking redress. Yet approaches to systemic biases that rely solely on responding to complaints are limited in their effectiveness and have the problematic consequence of putting the burden on the targets of the mistreatment. Peer bystander intervention is a promising alternative to tackling bias and microaggressions for multiple reasons. Pragmatically, coworkers tend to witness daily exchanges and can potentially detect problem situations and act quickly. Furthermore, if bystander action is widely embraced, this can signal that bias is collectively unacceptable, thereby initiating a cultural shift towards organizational norms for equity and respect.

Social Action: The “Get A (Collective) Grip©” framework has the transformative potential to address microaggressions in the workplace by activating bystanders to foster a sense of collective responsibility and alter local social norms.

Original Citation: Bond, M. A., & Haynes-Baratz, M. C. (2021). Mobilizing bystanders to address microaggressions in the workplace: The case for a systems-change approach to Getting A (Collective) GRIP. American Journal of Community Psychology, 1– 18. 

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