Facing resistance in your work

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Resistance is a normal response to social change. Understanding and planning for resistance is an important step to progress work in gender equality and the prevention of family violence and violence against women.

What is it and why does it occur?

Resistance refers to any response that denies, challenges or undermines efforts to promote gender equality and prevent family violence and violence against women. 

It can occur in any setting and by anyone, regardless of their gender. 

Resistance happens whenever there is social or cultural change, and it is a normal part of this process. It often comes when an established belief is challenged or when those who benefit from existing inequalities feel that their power and privilege is threatened.

While resistance can be challenging to navigate, it’s also a sign that your work is having an impact and creating change.

Types of resistance

When doing violence prevention work, you may encounter different types of resistance ranging from passive resistance like denial through to more active forms like backlash. 

Here are some common types of resistance and examples of how they might be expressed.

Denial
We don’t have an issue in our workplace with gender inequality.” 

This is one of the most common forms of resistance.

Disavowal
That’s not something we need to be focused on; other organisations can do that work.”
Inaction
“It’s just not something we can prioritise right now. Our budget won’t stretch that far.”
Appeasement
“Yes, of course, it is such important work, there is commitment to get started, it’s a priority.” (Then not following up with action.)
Appropriation
We simply don’t get the right women for these roles. They either don’t have the expertise or prefer less senior roles.”
Co-option
Men experience violence too you know, not just women. Equality really needs to focus on both women and men.”
Repression
We provide an annual leadership course for women and a lunch on International Women’s Day. That’s more than enough to focus on.”
Backlash

According to Our Watch, examples of resistance in a workplace context might include:

  • attempts to discredit evidence about gender inequality or the prevalence, severity and gendered nature of violence against women 
  • complaints about the unfairness of actions and strategies put in place to support women’s career advancement 
  • refusal to participate in training or being distracted or disruptive in training or consultation sessions.

How to respond

At some point, you’ll encounter resistance in your violence prevention work. Planning for resistance can help you prepare and respond to resistance when it occurs.  

Here are practical tips you can use to navigate different stages of responding to resistance. 

Your safety should always be a priority. Do not continue a conversation if you believe your safety is at risk. 

Preparing for the conversation

Plan for questions that may come up
Who will you be working with or talking to? What concerns may they have? It’s helpful to be familiar with relevant statistics, information and examples about violence against women and gender equality.

Practice
Most people don’t talk about preventing violence against women or gender equality every day. Practice responding in simple, clear language. Use examples and evidence to support your statements.

Understand that resistance is inevitable
Conversations about preventing violence against women and gender equality can lead people to reflect on their privileges and prejudice. This can challenge their established beliefs and cause discomfort. It’s natural for people to feel uncertain or resist at first. Meet people where they’re at and allow time and space for them to learn.

During the conversation

Acknowledge the question or statement
Repeating someone’s question or statement can make them feel heard and respected.

Clarify their concern
Seeking clarification helps you understand the person’s perspectives, concerns and underlying assumptions more accurately. It also gives you time to think of a relevant response.

Decide whether you will respond
If the person simply mistakes the facts or has a different personal experience, there’s an opportunity for you to address their concern. However, if they shut down the conversation by saying something like “it’s political correctness gone mad”, or use disrespectful or antagonising language, the conversation is unlikely to be helpful. You don’t need to respond to every form of resistance you encounter.

Start with your message and facts
While it’s important to address misinformation, putting too much focus on it in your response may make people more familiar with these myths. Lead with your key message and facts first, before noting and debunking the myth. Or simply just state your message and facts.

Find common ground and values
People are rarely convinced by statistics alone. They are more likely to be open to the conversation if they can connect with you. Identify and emphasise your common ground and values.

Back yourself
While your responses shouldn’t just rely on numbers and data, it can be helpful to have some clear and concrete evidence on hand. This can be useful if the resistance comes from ignorance or misconceptions. 

Respond with a clear and concise statement
Use plain, simple and respectful language to increase the chances of getting your message across. Avoid jargon.

After the conversation

Reflect on how the conversation went
What did you learn? Record your reflections.

Get support if you need it
Addressing resistance can be confronting and stressful, even if you’re prepared. Make sure you’re aware of the support available, such as debriefing with your supervisor, or accessing counselling from an Employee Assistance Program.

Its impact on practitioners

It’s common to feel frustrated, disheartened or attacked in the face of resistance. You may start to doubt yourself or lose confidence in your ability to respond effectively. 

Watch the video below to hear how resistance affects different practitioners in Victoria.  

Self care (both proactive and reactive) and reflective practice are two strategies that can help manage the mental health and wellbeing impacts of responding to resistance. The wellbeing, self care and sustainability section provides further information and practical suggestions to sustain you in doing violence prevention work.  

What organisations can do

Responding to resistance isn’t just the responsibility of individual practitioners. 

Organisations should put in place strategies, policies and resources to manage resistance and successfully embed violence prevention and gender equality work. Organisational leadership and positive workforce cultures are critical for effective and sustainable change.

The following strategies can help organisations manage resistance more effectively:

  • secure support from senior managers and leadership teams
  • communicate the importance of recognising and addressing unconscious bias
  • tailor information to different audiences
  • form strategic partnerships and allies
  • encourage open debate and discussion
  • challenge rationalisations for resistance
  • establish clear monitoring processes.

Resources for responding to resistance

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