Ashwin Willemse, quotas and other microaggressions in the workplace: how do you deal with it?

Ashwin Willemse presenting for Supersport
Ashwin Willemse presenting for Supersport

On Saturday evening during a live broadcast of SuperSport after a match analysis of the Lions’ win, the show's analyst and former Springbok, Ashwin Willemse, walked off set after stating he was unhappy with the way he was being treated by his co-hosts Nick Mallet and Naas Botha.

Here’s a clip that went viral after the incident happened:

It’s still not clear what happened exactly that triggered Ashwin’s walk of set, but many publications have pointed to tensions between Ashwin and his co-hosts and some have seemed to favour the view that Ashwin has been difficult to work with and simply left due to unprofessionalism.

READ MORE: 3 people share their sexual harassment stories - but what does the law say? (TRIGGER WARNING)

Social media has been set alight by the incident and there has been much discussion about it by a lot of people. Some offensive comments like this one by Skybanners SA (the original tweet has since been deleted, but screenshots have been kept) that say things that include that Ashwin needs to “lay off the papsak, bro” have added fuel to an already blazing fire. 

The episode with Ashwin and his SuperSport co-hosts has begun an important conversation on social media about microaggressions in the workplace in general. It's important that it continue as it affects too many of us.

Just yesterday, after a meeting held between the affected parties, Ashwin, Naas and Nick each gave a short comment that hinted that a lot of work had to be done to address what happened on set. 

Which applies to a lot of work environments especially when you start asking whether people have similar experiences.

(If you’re unsure what microaggressions means, Psychology Today defines it as: “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalised group membership.”)

READ MORE: How do you treat a trans co-worker? Hint: just like any other co-worker

A lot of Twitter users have already spoken about how micro-aggressions have affected or still affect them...

Sihle Bolani shared what happened to her when she was working for a banking institution back in 2014 and how it affected her:

To read the full thread, click on the tweet. 

And while there were mostly supportive answers to her tweets, there were negative ones too.

Janine Jellars highlighted that maybe some people just need to sit back and listen:

Our own Tammy February also highlighted the struggle people of colour have when we talk about anything racial:

Twitter user, @Mon_Dee shared this clip of Trevor Noah talking with Oprah to highlight systematic oppression:

Editor-at-large of HuffPost SA, Ferial Haffajee asked Twitter users to share their own “#AshwinWillemse moment”

We also asked our followers about microaggressions in their workplaces and how they've handled the situation:

Marginalised groups are often dismissed when we talk about issues of race, class, gender or sexuality by people in the ‘other’ category who do not experience these issues first hand and cannot be counted as allies because they do not try to empathise with marginalised groups. 

This is an important conversation to be had, so we need to keep having it. We need to keep talking about things that make people uncomfortable in order for it to be highlighted and brought into the open.

Especially in the workplace. Ashwin was brave to walk off set but not all of us may be in a situation where we can leave a job where we're experiencing micro aggression.

Here are some tips on how to deal: What you should expect from your managers

Elizabeth Mamacos, former head of content at Careers24 and freelance writer has this to say: "For microaggressions in the workplace to finally become a thing of the past, managers and leaders must take action.

"First is to recognise microaggressions as such, and then to work with employees to put a stop to this discriminatory behaviour. Quite often the perpetrators might even be unaware of the bias they are demonstrating and communicating, but in short any comment - usually negative, but sometimes even if meant in a positive way - about a colleagues gender, race, age, sexual orientation and more can be considered a microaggression.

"All employees should feel secure and respected at work, and managers can assist in this regard by encouraging and facilitating open communication between employees and management, and raising awareness of how unconscious bias might manifest in the workplace.

"Besides working with employees to raise awareness of what constitutes a microaggression, leaders must put an immediate stop to any discriminatory behaviour that occurs. By directly addressing any issues as they arise managers show that the behaviour will not be tolerated, and that all employees will be protected.  

"It is also crucial that any organisation's leadership team works together to model the preferred behaviour themselves, and also to show that they celebrate all employees' unique contributions to the workforce."

What can you do?

If an employee is in a situation where they are the target of ongoing microaggressions, and they cannot escalate the issue to HR or higher management, they may be forced to address the issue themselves.

One way to do this without causing further problems is to call on the support of colleagues who are willing to stand up to the perpetrator.

Another is to address the perpetrator directly, by asking them "Why do you think that?" or asking them to explain what they are saying. This can lead to unconscious bias being exposed and addressed in a direct but non threatening way.

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