Facing resistance in your work

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Resistance is a common 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 resistance and why does it occur?

Resistance describes the various forms of push back generated by policies, programs and perspectives that aim to create progressive social change. Anyone working to create social change will inevitably experience resistance and backlash.  

It can occur in any setting and come from 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. 

Resource: Overcoming Resistance and Backlash – a Guide for Primary Prevention Practitioners

This resource brings together and adds to existing resources by providing tips on effective strategies and ways of overcoming resistance, and other more extreme forms of backlash.

View resource >

Training: Unpacking Resistance

Dealing with resistance and backlash is a normal part of any social change. Our 1-day virtual training will give you the confidence to respond to it when it arises.

Learn more and enrol here >

Resource: Unpacking Resistance video series

All the information on this page and more can also be found in our Talking About Change resource. 

Resistance can be understood as an indicator of success and often occurs precisely when existing norms, structures and practices are effectively challenged. 

Types of resistance

When doing violence prevention work, you may encounter different types of resistance ranging from passive to active. Understanding what kind of resistance you’re facing can help you figure whether it’s safe for you to respond, and how you might go about it. 

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

Denial of the problem or the credibility of the case for change. This can include victim blaming.  

Example: We don’t have an issue in our workplace with gender inequality” 

A refusal to recognise responsibility. 

Example: That’s not something we need to be focused on; other organisations can do that work.” 

Refusal to implement change initiative.  

Example: “It’s just not something we can prioritise right now. Our budget won’t stretch that far.” 

Efforts to placate or pacify those advocating for change in order to limit its impact.  

Example: “Yes, of course, it is such important work, there is commitment to get started, it’s a priority.” (Then not following up with action.

Simulating change while covertly undermining it.  

Example: We simply don’t get the right women for these roles. They either don’t have the expertise or prefer less senior roles.” 

Using the language of progressive frameworks and goals for reactionary ends.  

Example: Men experience violence too you know, not just women. Equality really needs to focus on both women and men.” 

Reversing or dismantling a change initiative.  

Example: We tried that once and women didn’t want to take up the opportunity.” 

An aggressive, attacking response.

Example: “These feminists deserve all the abuse they get”

How to respond

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

  1. Be prepared

We know that resistance can be common in our work, so planning as much as possible in advance can be helpful! Organise your information, clarify your objectives and consider your audience and what questions they might have. Be aware of what supports are available to help you prepare 

  1. Practice talking about the issue

Take some time to understand and get comfortable with the evidence base and your own point of view. If possible, actually practice speaking out loud what you think you might say in advance and be confident in your own voice. 

  1. Understand backlash is inevitable

Acknowledge that change takes time, some people take longer to be part of the change process than others and that experiencing resistance is often sign that your work is actually making an impact.  

Be kind to yourself and allow time for people and opinions to change. 

  1. Check in with yourself

Make sure you feel comfortable going into the potential resistance situation Consider the audience, setting, dynamics of previous conversations, and where you are at emotionally. 

Remember, you are not required to respond to every statement of resistance in your personal and/or professional life. 

During the conversation

  1. Acknowledge the question

Acknowledging that you have heard the person’s question or statement can be a helpful way to begin a respectful conversation. 

  1. Clarify their concern

Seeking clarification is important for understanding and responding to a question. You can do this by repeating the question or statement. 

Clarifying also gives you more time to respond and consider where the resistance is stemming from. 

  1. Communicate your response

It’s important to respond with a strong, clear and concise statement. Engage respectfully. Don’t get drawn into rebutting false claims or smaller details – stick to your key messages and values.   

  1. Be open and show curiosity

Think about your audience and where their opinion might be coming from. Remember that resistance can come from different places for different people. Look for common ground and shared values. 

  1. Refer to the evidence

Draw on evidence and knowledge you organised earlier. Try not to get drawn into debunking myths, instead stand firm on what you know to be true. 

After the conversation

  1. Make time for self-reflection

Reflect on how your discussions went and ask if the resistance is particularly significant and needs to be managed differently 

  1. Be aware of available support

Be aware of available supports such as debriefing with a team member or counselling through the Employment Assistance Program. 

If you find there is not enough support at your workplace, you are well within your rights to ask for more. 

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

Learn more about responding to resistance by reading our resource, Overcoming Resistance and Backlash – a Guide for Primary Prevention Practitioners.

Understanding organisational resistance

Resistance does not only occur at the interpersonal level – it can also be seen at the organisational and systemic level. Respect Victoria has released both a report and framework for understanding, identifying and responding to organisational resistance. Read the Respect Victoria resources here. 

Resistance and practitioner wellbeing

Even when you feel prepared and walk away from experiencing resistance feeling successful, responding to resistance can be an emotional and impactful process.   

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

While checking in with yourself and sticking to healthy workplace practices and boundaries is an important part of maintaining your wellbeing, the onus is not on you alone. Your organisation bears an important responsibility in creating a healthy and stable working environment and culture to enable you to work safely, sustainably and meaningfully.   

What organisations can do to support wellbeing

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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