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When Things Go Wrong…

How we fix our mistakes is the
true test

What we do inside the agency when no one is looking matters just as much as work we put out into the world.

After all, two of our core values are Community and Integrity.

When things go wrong, we have a chance to prove those core values and make things right.


What’s a microaggression?

Microaggressions are the everyday slights, snubs or insults that communicate hostile or negative messages about a marginalized group and make them feel less than or like they don’t belong in some way.

They can be intentional, and—this is super important—unintentional. But they’re still hurtful.

It’s stuff like:

  • Inviting a woman, person of color or LGBTQ+ employee to a meeting solely so we look more diverse.
  • Assuming someone speaks and can translate Spanish based on their last name.
  • Constantly mixing up the only two Asian women in your department.
  • Telling someone they “don’t sound Black” or “aren’t really gay.”
  • Not learning how to pronounce someone’s name.
  • Not using someone’s pronouns.
  • Telling a person with a disability that they’re brave or a hero when they haven’t done anything extraordinary.
  • Telling a woman not to get “so emotional” in a meeting.
  • Saying “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter.” Or telling people that you “don’t see color.”

This list could go on….

Microaggressions can seem small individually (hence the “micro”), but their effects build up, causing stress and making it hard for people to do their jobs effectively. That’s the last thing any of us want.


So…what do I do when I see or hear something like that?

  • If you’re experiencing a microaggression

    You’re under no obligation to confront the person if it’s going to make your life more stressful, but you can if you want. Either way, the agency has your back.

  • If you witness a microaggression against someone else

    Now is the time to flex some of your privilege and use it for good. If we’re in a position to speak up but don’t, we’re complicit.

Calling Out vs Calling In

Most of the time, we talk about calling people out when they say or do something offensive. But you can also call people in.

Calling out

Publicly giving feedback to someone. It’s important when we need to interrupt something to prevent further harm.

Calling in

Talking with someone privately and more personally to help them see another perspective. It’s most effective when you think they’ll be open to understanding and learning more.

Both approaches are totally valid in different situations. It’s up to you which you use.


You can also try one of these microinterventions for disarming a microinterventions:

Ask for clarification

“What do you mean by that?” or “What makes you think that?”

Separate intent from impact

“I know you didn’t mean this, but when you __________, it came across like ___________.”

Share your own process

“I noticed that you ___________. I used to do/say that too, but then I learned ____________.”

The idea is to make the microaggressor think about what they said without making them feel attacked. This will help make them less defensive and more open to actual change.

If you see something, say something.

Whatever approach you take, the agency will back you up. We know that hasn’t always happened in the past, but we are listening now and committed to doing better.

Even if the person isn’t trying to be racist/sexist/whateverist, intentions aren’t the point. The impact is what matters.

People can’t fix what they don’t know is a problem.

So let them know.

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking up right then, talk to the person later or find an advocate who can help you solve the problem.

Want more help giving and receiving feedback?

Check out:
“Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott
“Dare To Lead” by Brené Brown


Oh, yikes. Someone just called me in (or out)….

This is actually a great thing.

For real.

It means that the person trusted that you were open to feedback and capable of making change.

That’s a compliment. And it’s an opportunity for you to learn and grow. That’s good. (Even if there are a few uncomfortable growing pains.)

So even if you feel embarrassed, don’t get defensive.

If you stepped on someone’s toe and they said, “Ouch!” you wouldn’t say, “I didn’t do anything,” or “That didn’t hurt” or “You’re so sensitive.” That would make you sound like a jerk.

Instead, you would instinctively say something like, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’ll watch out next time.” Because that’s what considerate humans do.

Listen, reflect and do better next time.


I called someone in, and they blew me off….

That sucks, and we’re sorry that happened to you. There are a couple things you can do:

Find an advocate

Is there someone you trust who might be able to better reach this person and navigate this situation? This could be someone else on your team, a leader in your department or our Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

Talk to Human Resources

HR wants to make sure you feel safe, comfortable and able to bring your whole self to the work you do. You can go to HR if you have an issue with another employee, a client or vendor.

If you go to HR, here’s what to expect:

  • HR will talk to you about what happened.
  • Together, y’all will make a plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  • If the offender is a client or vendor, HR is more than willing to talk with them to keep us safe and comfortable. They’ll also bring in account leadership or production to help.
  • HR will let you know that the incident has been handled but is not legally able to give you any more details.
  • It’s up to you to let HR know if the behavior continues or gets worse. Otherwise, they can’t elevate things.

HR will take action, working to keep things as confidential as possible:

  • Most of the time, HR simply talks to the person and lets them know that their behavior isn’t okay. Usually, that’s all it takes.
  • If what they did was a clear dealbreaker, HR deals with it swiftly.
  • In more severe cases, HR lets the person and their supervisor know that if it happens again, the employee will be disciplined, up to and including termination. (The supervisor will watch for the behavior too.)

The whole process is outlined in more detail in the Employee Guidebook.


Empower People to Speak up


Be an Ally


Empower People to Speak up


Be an Ally


Empower People to Speak up


Be an Ally