Not every employee will embrace your organisational efforts towards diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Yet it’s still bewildering when employees we thought supportive, instead either deny the problem or feign support with inaction and inertia. And why wouldn’t they?
For example, a successful CEO may feel personally attacked when faced with the argument their success has had more to do with their maleness and whiteness and not their years of study or the effort and sacrifices endured moving up the corporate ladder.
Your role as an advocate for DEI, is to anticipate, recognise, engage and effectively deal with this expected employee opposition. But let’s be upfront, these are tough conversations. They can be emotional, personal, traumatic even hazardous if not handled well.
preparation to identify and effectively deal with common forms of employee resistance. You can also share employee resistance you’ve experienced and in return we can offer some advice. It might also help others.
In June 2021, MIT Sloan Management Review categorised three ways employees try to oppose change towards DEI- denial, distance, and distortion. Being able to identify the source of the opposition allows you to systematically and therefore confidently respond.
This form of opposition is where employees fail to acknowledge the existence of any forms of bias, prejudice or discrimination.
|“You’re right, we have made progress but to keep progressing ongoing effort is required. The changes you refer to, were implemented quite recently in the scheme of things. Let’s just look at a brief history,
– In 1943 women were finally being elected to the Commonwealth Parliament. Yet in 2021 only 38% of women make up the Parliament
– In 1972 Equal pay for equal work became law. Yet women have to work an extra 64 days a year to get the same pay as men doing the same work.
So whilst progress has been made, we haven’t yet been able to undo the centuries of inequality.
Despite laws and policies designed to promote equality these alone aren’t sufficient to achieve genuine equality for every person regardless of class, race, and gender.
How can women be considered equal to men when statistics like these persist?
o Only 10% of CEOs of ASX200 listed companies are female
o Women spend substantially more time on unpaid work than men and this reinforces gender stereotypes such as ‘men as the breadwinner’. Redistribution of unpaid care could reverse this societal construct.
o Only 1 in 5 culturally diverse women felt their workplace was free of culture diversity or gender-based biases and stereotypes
This workplace recognises there is much work to be done to create genuine equality for all and we hope you will be part of the change.”
Whilst employees accept that inequities occurs, they do not see themselves as part of the problem. Distancing themselves from the privileged majority helps hold on to the belief that their success is in fact a result of their hard work and not who they are. By citing hardships, even discrimination employees attempt to discount the systemic inequities that burden minorities.
“Whilst there are certainly still individuals who display overtly racist or sexist behaviour which must be appropriately sanctioned, it is the systemic discrimination which must be overcome and we all have a role to play to address these inequities. The core of the issue is that it’s
– where you’re born,
– the colour of your skin,
– your socio-economic status and
that determines if you’re hired, promoted or how much you’re paid and not if you’re qualified or capable. But mistakenly we don’t see this because these ‘unfair’ processes are subtle even invisible. But when we look to research, we find in fact those in majority are advantaged by the current system – so people could work just as hard, achieve the same results, yet their outcomes are very different purely because of demographic factors. As an organisation we take responsibility to level the playing field.”
Whilst there is acceptance of inequities, employee’s display their opposition to efforts to address inequities through criticisms of ‘system-wide’ approaches to change. For example hiring and promotion processes. This manifests itself as unwillingness to participate in training or new procedures and to perceive themselves (despite being a majority) as being discriminated against. Their concern is that changing systems will remove their unearned advantage.
|“We acknowledge that the world has made progress towards becoming more equitable. But let’s not kid ourselves, the unfair and underserved treatment of minorities throughout the ages is harrowing. And whilst there are now laws preventing overt discriminatory behaviour, these have only been around recently (last 50 years). We cannot expect to immediately undo centuries of discrimination.
In fact we are still a long way from achieving equality – for example, in the last 30 years more women (54%) have graduated from university than men (45%) but women are less likely to be promoted into management than men. Currently only 10% of CEO’s of ASX200 listed companies are female. It’s clear that well- meaning legal frameworks don’t work to dismantle the more subtle forms of bias and discrimination in our workplaces – its these we need to shine a light on and make plans to address. So yes, we absolutely do need these initiatives, and urgently.”
I hope these responses inspire your thinking and confidence in ways to productively respond to employee opposition to your gallant attempts to help your workplace strive for equity.
Let’s keep this an ongoing conversation to help build our collective understanding of the types of opposition employees throw up and how we can best respond, it’s in everyone’s interest. Please feel free to comment here or message me directly.
12 Ways Employees Push Back Against Equity Efforts
How to best respond, so you don’t get derailed when resistance occurs (and it will).