Understanding and addressing backlash to gender equality reform

The challenge

The Victoria Police have been working to implement key recommendations from an independent review into the nature, extent, drivers and impact of sex discrimination and sexual harassment, including predatory behaviour, among Victoria Police employees. There has been significant progress towards the gender equality recommendations across the organisation; however, workplace harm still continues to occur at unacceptably high levels and still affects far more women than men, with crippling individual and organisational impacts.

Resistance to gender equality reform especially from men is common. It may arise from boys and men feeling a sense of discomfort that their own behaviours are being called into question, feeling blamed and shamed for gender inequality, a lack of awareness about what constitutes gender inequality/equality (in terms of particular attitudes or behaviours) or feeling pressure from others to be resistant.

This pilot project sought to better understand the backlash to gender equality reform identified within Victoria Police. The 2018 document: Challenges – Values of Safety, Respect and Inclusion found in particular:

  • Continued belief among some employees that the gender equality reforms were not necessary
  • Continued backlash against gender equality initiatives, particularly from male employees
  • Confusion about ‘everyday sexism’, with persistent beliefs that it is harmless banter or ‘letting off steam’

This backlash severely compromises efforts to embed gender equality within Victoria Police by 2030 and provides a strong warrant for this proposed research.

Project overview

In consultation with the Victoria Police’s Gender Equality and Inclusion Command, 20–25 participants were selected for one-on-one interviews with the research team. The participants were selected on the basis of their capacity to provide insight into a range of perspectives about issues of backlash and resistance to gender equality reform. These participants represented a range of levels of experience, cultural and gender diversity, age, rank, positions, duty/responsibilities, geographic location.

The key research questions were:

  • How is resistance and backlash to gender equality understood?
  • What does this resistance and backlash look like? How does it play out?
  • What are the implications of this resistance and backlash? (i.e. how does it compromise the broader efforts for gender equality currently being pursued within Victoria police but also what are the positive stories associated with addressing this resistance and backlash?)
  • How might resistance and backlash be addressed?

Outcomes

The study report distilled the main findings about how backlash and resistance against gender equality reform was manifest within various sectors of the Victoria Police. It included recommendations to begin addressing this backlash.

This pilot study also sought to create an evidence-base of the current issues and concerns about backlash to the organisation’s efforts for gender equality that would lead to funding of a large-scale project and more detailed information.

Project team

Professor Amanda Keddie (Chief Investigator, Deakin University)

Associate Professor Michael Flood (QUT)

Maria Delaney (Social Change Agency)

Dr Cheryl Ryan (Deakin University)

Expert reference group

Professor Tim Prenzler (University of the Sunshine Coast)

Dr Skye Saunders (Australian National University)

Funding

Deakin University

$15 000–$17 000.

Timeline

2024

More information

Keddie, A. (2022) Gender equality reform and police organisations: a social justice approach, Gender, Work & Organization, 30(3), 810-825. (open access)

Keddie, A. (2022) Towards gender equality reform in police organisations: the utility of a social justice approach, Police Practice and Research: An International Journal

Keywords

gender, equality, discrimination