Don’t ‘call people out’ for microaggressions… call them ‘in’.

Diversity training for businesses is progressing all the time, and employers who want to live and breathe their equality, diversity and inclusion vision need to make sure they’re always continuing their learning journey. 

It’s wonderful to see that much of the training about diversity and inclusion now involves action. – This means each employee taking responsibility for self education about characteristics they don’t have a lived experience of; seeking out information about challenges, and the history of communities and cultures outside of their usual work and social spheres. 

Good events, and certainly training sessions, should always be geared towards positive changes which can be made by the participating delegates, with the newly learned information in mind. 

How many times have you listened to a speaker or been part of a Zoom session where the problems are posed, but no solutions come through?

Relief at being in a room of like minds with shared pain points can initially lead a person to feel very glad to have participated. However initial positive feelings of interest in statistics presented, or survey results revealed, and empathy with case studies quickly turn into dissatisfaction if there’s no action point at the end. Being part of an echo chamber serves nobody fully.  

The progression of unconscious bias training towards proactivity and personal action means that attendees should depart with the knowledge that a piece of the responsibility to move towards an inclusive culture sits within them individually, and within each person around them as a collective. 

Then as a result, whole teams and departments should start to feel the need to be a little more accountable for positive change, and it’s then, when the necessary tools for change become weaved into department strategies that true traction can begin. 

Maybe we’ll start to see the unpicking of marital status titles in business systems within IT and data strategies?

Maybe we’ll see the tracking of uptake and effectiveness of gender inclusivity training with customer service teams? 

If progress can be weaved into a strategy, then there are granular KPIs against that progress. Good strategies will involve plans that are time limited, and specific, leading to action in the following time period for anything not achieved in the current one. 

Staying still does not keep the conversation about gender inclusion going. Ticking the diversity box and moving on does not keep the exploration of protected characteristics brave. 

An event with my fellow consultants at The Diversity Trust this week led to a conversation about active bystander training. i.e. how organsations are training their employees to address unhelpful or hurtful behaviours in the workplace. 

Micro aggressions are behaviours which may not be overtly shocking, racist or homophobic. They may not be direct, and they may not be purposeful, but they exist because of unconscious biases, and they still cause hurt.

Examples of micro-aggressions:

  • Saying ‘where are you really from?’ when the colour of a person’s skin is not white. 
  • Speaking over the women at a board room table but not the men. 
  • Excluding a person from an event or an event invitation because there’s an assumption they wouldn’t be interested due to their culture. 

In our line of work, a micro aggression might be calling somebody ‘Mr’ when they have informed you that their pronouns are they/ them, or calling somebody ‘Missy’ because of a youthful look and an assertive demeanour.

Active bystander training gives individuals the tools to enable them to confidently oppose these behaviours or use of language, without being combative. 

Usually when speaking about unhelpful behaviours, the term we use is ‘call it out’. 

However a conversation with a peer at the event I attended said he used the term, ‘call it in’ instead, and as soon as he explained why, it resonated deeply. 

In the spirit of this new era of ‘action’, and ‘brave conversation’, the term ‘call it in’ makes so much more sense. 

When we hear somebody being misgendered or referred to incorrectly, the correction doesn’t need to be a ‘push’ action. It can be a ‘pull’. It can be an invitation to learn. 

Inviting the person in to see what the impact of their actions in a safe non-judgmental environment is a much better way of creating an atmosphere that is zero-tolerance, but also united in the quest of lifelong learning.


A colleague called Jonny calls a non-binary team member called Ash ‘Mr Tea Break’ because they always drink tea and offer it to their team members. 

You know that the name isn’t intended to hurt Ash, but nevertheless you speak to the colleague. You ‘call it in’:

“Hey Jonny… errr I’m not sure if you realise this, but when you call Ash ‘Mr’, you’re kind of saying they’re a guy!

I know you may not have thought about it, but I just wanted to mention it… because it’s small things like that which might lead to other people using phrases which misgender. I just worry that the more errors we make it’ll take longer for other people to unwind their own thought processes. You know? 

If you value your tea, you might want to change it to ‘Tea break Ash’ or something like that next time!”

Supporting a colleague with tweaking a judgement doesn’t have to be a red tape process, or a HR issue, and doing it quickly and effectively may hopefully contribute to faster progress. 

The GoTitleFree team likes ‘call it in’ because ‘calling something out’ suggests a public shaming. Helping a person to learn shouldn’t be seen as awaiting an opportunity for correction and attack, but a sentiment that we’re all in that learning journey together.

Stella Sutcliffe

  • Find out more about how to train your teams and change the language you use at work here.
  • All GoTitleFree updates and posts will be on our LinkedIn page, so please do follow it here.
  • To join us for our next event where we’ll be exploring examples of organisations who’ve gone ‘title free’, register here
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