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 seeks 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 are 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 will severely compromise 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 will be selected for a one-on-one interview with the research team. The participants will be 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. Ideally, these participants would represent a range of levels of experience, cultural and gender diversity, age, rank, positions, duty/responsibilities, geographic location.

The key research questions are:

  • 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?


The outcome of this study will be a report that distils the main findings about how backlash and resistance against gender equality reform is currently manifest within various sectors of the Victoria Police. It will include recommendations to begin addressing this backlash. The findings may also be presented in academic articles, practice-oriented forums, and media outlets (with permission from Victoria Police).

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


Deakin University

$15 000–$17 000.



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)


gender, equality, discrimination