Why we need resilience in the face of backlash to diversity and inclusion

Opinion pieces
Topics Inclusion

By Lisa Annese, CEO, Diversity Council Australia

As the public face of Diversity Council Australia, the backlash I receive is the stuff of legend. It comes in the form of letters, emails and, of course, posts on social media.

Here are just a few examples on the back of my interview with Miranda Devine from the Daily Telegraph, so you can get a sense of what goes on.

And these are just some of the printable ones!

I‘m not sharing these to complain, but rather to send a message of support to others who are agitating for change and may be receiving backlash too. This backlash can be experienced at work or social gatherings, or it can be from media commentators who spread misinformation and untruths.  

The fact that people are pushing back means the message is cutting through, even though there is work to be done, as the Male Champions of Change Backlash and Buy-in report points out. The important thing though is not to take these attacks personally, but to stay strong and resilient in the face of them.

Here are three ways you can do that.

Stick to the facts

The charge I often hear from the disgruntled goes along the lines of: ‘You have to be a disabled, foreign, transgender woman to get a job these days.’  This was an actual complaint made to my office!

Those with the most influence, power and financial resources in our country today have none of these attributes!  As much as detractors feel the world is changing, and that their position in the status quo is being undercut by pretty much anyone who is not male and white, the data just doesn’t support this. We still have a long way to go towards equity for all Australians.

Anyone who doesn’t believe this need only look at statistics on the stubbornly persistent (albeit lowering) gender pay gap; the lack of cultural diversity in leadership, or the fact that people with a disability are less likely than their fellow Australians to achieve positive employment outcomes.  

Stick to these facts, and educate with them.  

Familiarise and connect

If you want to create change, you have to know, to a certain extent, who your detractors are and what their (genuine) complaints are. Exposure to this knowledge is power.

By this I don’t mean personally responding to mean tweets or insults, but rather keeping a pulse on dissenting narratives and countering them with the evidence mentioned above. 

This is tough. So the other side of this is self-care. Change can feel like lonely work. And if you can reach out to a network of like-minded colleagues, all the better. If you’re a DCA member, then you have a whole community of people, resources and events at your disposal.

Turn the tables

When faced with complaints like, ‘It's not like it used to be,’ ‘This is PC culture gone mad’ or ‘I can’t do what I want to do,’ one of the most effective strategies is simply to turn the tables and ask, ‘What is that you can’t do anymore that you want to? What has ‘political correctness’ stolen from you, exactly?’

What is it, really, that you can no longer do?

Is it that you can’t sexually assault and harass women, or make racist jokes, or is that you have to compete with more people?

When you phrase it like this, there is often no credible answer.

Further proof, as if we need it, that the good fight should continue through people who are energised, informed and resilient to the challenge ahead.

For more topical debate, listen to DCA's podcast The Art of Inclusion

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