'Micro-Inequities' Have Big Workplace Impact

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Eric Tate says everyone has experienced “micro-inequities” in the workplace, and he is no exception.

Tate, a partner at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco, recalls an incident that occurred when he was the only African-American associate at the law firm’s Palo Alto, Calif., office. A secretary mistook him for someone in the mail room and tried to hand him a package she wanted to ship.

Speaking at a program at the ABA Annual Meeting in New York City, Tate defined micro-inequities as the subtle slights and snubs that devalue employees and often prompt them to leave.

He lists some examples: Having a chummy nickname for some employees but not others. Asking only favored employees to lunch. Dismissing an idea offered by one worker, but embracing it when paraphrased by another.

A January 2007 survey by Korn/Ferry International found that that more than 2 million professionals and managers leave their jobs each year because of unfairness in the workplace, costing employers an estimated $64 billion a year in hiring costs. People of color were three times more likely than white heterosexual men to cite workplace unfairness as the reason they quit their jobs, the study found.

While Tate praises his firm for its workplace practices, he says it’s likely that law firms are losing employees over micro-inequities. “I don’t think it’s any different in law firms than it is in other industry,” he said in an interview.

He called for an awareness of the problem at the program sponsored by the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. And he said employers can battle it through best practices that include raising sensitivity, creating mentoring programs, forming affinity groups where problems can be discussed and appointing ombudspeople to handle complaints.

Annual Meeting 2008:

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