Women’s History Month: Serena Williams, New York Times, Microaggressions


Octavia Goredema. Photo courtesy of Smith Publicity.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In response to the New York Times misrepresenting Serena Williams in print by publishing a photo of her sister, instead of her, Goredema shares her comments below. She is the author of the new book PREP, PUSH, PIVOT: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women (Wiley).


By Octavia Goredema | Career Expert, Author

This isn’t a “mistake.” It’s a microaggression. Bottom line, microaggressions are damaging. Often it can feel like we have two choices:

1)      Let it go

2)      Respond and challenge

In both instances, the victim of the microaggression has to deal with additional stress, regardless of their choice.  It’s wrong and it needs to stop.

Serena Williams did the right thing by calling out the New York Times in this tweet. But speaking up when you’re the victim of a microaggression takes courage, and the very act of doing so takes a toll on your own mental health and wellbeing, especially when it’s to a co-worker or someone more senior than you.


Serena’s approach was to express her feelings and publicly challenge the behavior. This response worked because the microaggression directed at her appeared in print. If you find yourself on the receiving end of a microaggression in your workplace, your response is likely to vary based on the situation, context and your relationship with the person concerned.

One way to respond in the moment is to ask an open-ended question, such as: “What did you mean by that?”

This may give the other person a moment to reflect on what they said. But they still might not get it, or double down on their statement, and you may need to explain how the microaggression was interpreted, and why.

A lot of microaggressions are linked to implicit bias, and that’s something the victim of the microaggression cannot control.

As a career coach, my work is centered on supporting underrepresented professionals in the workplace and I know that our mental health and overall well-being is the number #1 priority. We need to protect it at all costs.

ABOUT OCTAVIA GOREDEMA: An acclaimed career expert, Goredema’s insights have been featured in leading media outlets including NBC News, Yahoo, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Grazia, and Black Enterprise, among others. Octavia co-hosted HBR Now, Harvard Business Review’s weekly show about leadership. 

A dual U.S. and U.K. citizen, Goredema was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen (MBE) in recognition of her work. Octavia is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, where she leads the Gender Equity Network in the United States. She is an Ambassador of the Pankhurst Centre, the birthplace of the suffragette movement in Manchester, England. In 2018, Goredema was featured in Women Who Dared, a major exhibition at the University of Oxford celebrating women who have made an impactful contribution to education, business, science, politics, and the arts. Originally from England, Octavia lives in Los Angeles.

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