How to respond to resistance towards equity efforts

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.

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 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.

Share other types of opposition you’ve experienced, and we’ll get back to with a suggested response.

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).