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Roundtable explores emerging "backlash" towards digital gender equality efforts

Study after study (e.g. McKinsey & Co, Catalyst, Petersen Institute, MIT) has convincingly demonstrated the business case and economic case for gender equality as well as for diversity and inclusion more broadly, despite this, programmes with these goals sometimes still encounter resistance or backlash. Additionally, though the numbers of women and minorities in tech roles and in senior management at tech firms remains low in most countries around the world, some perceive that a gain for women or persons from a minority group must inevitably mean an unfair loss of opportunity for men from the majority group.

How can an organization’s gender equality programmes be designed to avoid or minimize the risk of backlash and how can an organization effectively respond if fatigue or resistance is nevertheless encountered?

This was the theme of a December roundtable held in support of EQUALS at Microsoft’s New York office, and co-hosted by EQUALS founding partners the International Telecommunication Union and UN Women. Dan Bross of Article One, a specialized sustainability and human rights consulting firm, moderated the multi-stakeholder discussion, which concluded that backlash/fatigue is a real phenomenon and that it can be an obstacle to implementation of diversity and inclusion programmes – either overtly or passive aggressively.

Key actions shared by the roundtable participants to help avoid/address backlash included:

  • Having a clear statement of support from the organization’s leadership on the strategic importance of the actions and the benefit for all employees of a more inclusive work environment;

  • aving and communicating robust data that supports the need for the actions;

  • Making engaging men a priority in the organization’s approach;

  • Recognizing and rewarding inclusive behaviour and holding people accountable for lack of progress;

  • Having safe spaces/channels for dialogue and raising concerns

  • confronting and dispelling myths, stereotypes and backlash with facts and data;

  • Enlisting powerful supportive men as allies for programmes and to respond to any backlash.

A more extensive summary of the good practices identified is available from ITU’s United Nations New York Office.

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