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More Powerful Together: Overcoming Resistance to Diversity & Inclusion

I love March! It’s the time of year when gender equality is on the radar thanks to International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. Businesses are keen to promote events and initiatives, individuals get to celebrate achievements and status quos are scrutinised and challenged. It’s a time that fills me with optimism for the future. Which is particularly important to me this year as it’s the first International Women’s Day I get to celebrate with my four-month-old daughter.

Whilst I get excited about International Women’s Day, I know not everyone I work with shares my sentiments. I work with leaders in the resource, construction and energy sectors to shift cultures and lift performance in a range of areas including operational efficiency, safety and inclusive leadership. I have been working in these industries for over a decade and whilst I’m proud that diversity and inclusion has become a strategic focus for most companies, I have noticed a growing resentment or pushback in individuals when the topic of gender equality, domestic violence, #MeToo or any other related subject is raised.

It is this observation which I suspect has driven the UN Women Australia’s IWD 2019 theme – More Powerful Together. Whilst the global 2019 IWD theme is #BalanceforBetter Australia has adopted it’s own local theme. The Aussie focus is on enlisting everyone, not just women, to enable us to achieve balance. This year’s message aims to breakdown stereotypes and gendered roles to create a more equal world for women and girls. I wonder whether the people who decided upon this theme have been noticing a similar resistance emerging.

So, what do you do when you come across someone who is less than positive about the current shifts in the gender equality landscape? One of the strategies I utilise when working with leaders is to understand what motivates them personally. All of us prioritise differently and are motivated by different factors. By understanding these drivers, we (the influencers) can use them to our advantage when trying to achieve buy-in. It’s the WIIFM principle – What’s In It For Me.

A simple way to identify what motivates an individual is to observe what they enjoy doing at work (e.g achieving results, engaging with team members) and listening to the language they use (e.g. “I feel…”, “what’s the return on investment?”). Using your observations, you can apply the Head, Heart and Guts model outlined by Dotlich, Cairo and Rhinesmith. This model suggests there are three intelligences used by individuals – one in the head, one in the heart and the other in the gut.

People who are driven by the Head value reasoning, cognitive perception and analysis. They are the people interested in the business case for diversity, to understand the Return on Investment for any diversity initiatives and will want to set targets, quotas or KPI’s. You can spark their interest in D&I initiatives by helping them understand how diversity and inclusion impacts the bottom line, leads to better decision making and improved innovation. These types of people will want to know that diversity and inclusion makes good business sense by returning a measurable benefit. They may also be interested in what other companies are doing in their diversity and inclusion strategies as they like to keep up to date with the latest industry trends.

An individual who leads with the Heart is driven by their personal values, understands and uses emotions and values their connections and relationships with others. This person cares about D&I because it’s the “right thing to do”. They ideologically believe in diversity and care about people. They may also have a personal motivation, such as wanting to see their mother, partner, daughter, sister, etc. be able to work and live in a safe environment that values her contributions equally. These types of leaders were targeted in the innovative “Daughter Water” ad campaign by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

The final type of individual is one who is driven by the Gut. This person is someone who isn’t afraid of a challenge. They are motivated to take calculated risks and are courageous in the face of uncertainty. They enjoy change and are unafraid to make tough decisions. I’ve found this type of person is influenced by positioning Diversity and Inclusion as an enticing challenge. Especially one they are instrumental in fixing. You could demonstrate how their skills, experience or characteristics make them integral to overcoming the challenges.

For example, let’s say you want to get leadership support for implementing flexible work practices. You may like to present research findings which highlight how productivity and staff satisfaction improves when employees have the option to work flexibly. They may be interested to hear about other companies who have taken radical steps to implement flex with their employees, such as the New Zealand company who reduced it’s work week to four days but still pays their staff for five days. The Heart leader may be interested in hearing personal stories from staff members who are seeking flexible work to balance the multiple demands in their life. This may be especially powerful if the employee and the leader share similar circumstances. Finally, the Gut leader may be influenced by being the first to try the flex program. Identify their strong leadership skills and ability to manage to outcomes, rather than time at the desk. Explain how they would be instrumental in setting a new standard and challenging existing norms within the company.

Of course, people can use a combination of both head, heart and gut so you may find a combined approach in your influencing tactics is necessary. By tailoring your approach, you have a greater chance of overcoming resistance and helping people to see that gender equality is good for everyone. Whilst we may not always agree with someone’s opposition to equality initiatives, I believe it’s important to still provide space for people to discuss their perspectives. This should always be done in a respectful manner so that all views are heard and together, we can find a way forward that engages everyone. After all, we truly are more powerful together. #BalanceforBetter.


Teagan is the author of Rules of the Game: Women in the Masculine Industries. Combining academic research with real life recommendations from over 50 women and men this book paints a picture of the realities of being a women working in a masculine environment and offers strategies for achieving success.

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