Converting the Naysayers

November 23, 2016 in Jobs-Shared

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Yesterday I attended a Diversity Practitioners Association workshop that addressed an issue we all face in the workplace at some point – dealing with the naysayers, and the people who push back. As a diversity practitioner and a startup founder, this is just part of my every day, so I was all for finding out how to tackle this problem. In my work, my naysayers are people who don’t realise they have a problem, people who already believe they’re doing a bang-up job when it comes to equality and diversity in the workplace, they’re not aggressive, and they’re not really even saying no. Yesterday I had the chance to hear from people who are facing push backs and naysayers for a variety of reasons, reasons I had never considered, and issues which are so socially entrenched that addressing it feels completely overwhelming.


Why do people push back?

Before we can change behaviour, we need to understand what drives it. Sometimes it’s out of fear or feeling threatened, feeling unsure, or an entrenched power structure. What yesterday highlighted, was it’s not always the stereotypical misogynist middle manager either, sometimes it’s the people who say nothing, or remain passive that is equally as damaging.

A lack of awareness or exposure to the situation is one reason for passiveness. I know I am guilty of this. Until I had a child, I was blissfully unaware of any problems regarding the need for workplace flexibility, the ‘mummy tax’, the challenges faced by anyone needing to work flexibly but still remain in their career. These were all foreign concepts to me. I didn’t see a problem with gender equality, I worked in an office with lots of smart women, and it didn’t dawn on me that there were very few women over 40… Until I became pregnant, and I started questioning how I was going to navigate a career and kids.

When I think about it, I witnessed troubling behaviour, but I didn’t speak up because I didn’t want to damage any relationships, and on the rare occasion that I did say something, the inaction just reinforced my belief that it wasn’t my place to intervene. There’s a great quote by David Morrison “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. I think we’ve all been guilty of this at some point, just as we’ve all been on the receiving end too. It’s an easy way to respond to something that feels uncomfortable and overwhelming.


What Can we do?

Dr Renata Bongiorno raised an interesting point, historically it’s left for the low power groups to fix the problem. You’ve got a problem? Okay, well how are you going to fix it?

Rather than placing the burden on the already burdened people, why not work together to solve the problem. We can start by acknowledging our own bias, listen to, and try and understand what struggles people are facing. What’s that saying, “walk a mile in their shoes”?

The Male Champions Of Change obviously came into discussion, love them or hate them they are trying to make a difference. What is interesting is that statistics show that men start becoming involved in championing gender equality when they have daughters. When it starts to affect them directly.

One of the other fantastic speakers yesterday, Tammy Pope, mentioned that she saw results when they were able to create a ‘lived experience’. Her example was that until people actually experienced working with people with disabilities they weren’t interested in it. It might be something they did to tick a box, but it wasn’t something they actively pursued. That is until someone took the time to place someone with a disability into a job that worked with their strengths, that they loved and had a passion for. Not just a job for the sake of having a job. Once they worked with someone with a disability, they realised they were dedicated, reliable and highly productive workers. A talent pool they had overlooked for years.

We can’t force people to have daughters, but we can start instigating more ‘lived experiences’ in the workplace. Talk to people, understand what a flexible work solution (for example) has meant to their life. I could go on about this for ages, the reality is we need to do something. Doing nothing is just as damaging as the outspoken, brash, naysayers.


And what about those brash naysayers who can’t be reasoned with?

We’ve all dealt with them at some point, and it can be confronting and highly emotional. When you’re having an emotional response to something someone has said, it can be difficult to remain calm. But there are ways to deal with them.

Having statistics that back up your case is always a good starting point. Nothing will convince them they’re wrong, but you could convince the people around them by stating that the reputable statistics out there support your point. Keep asking them questions, get them to explain their perspective, understand what they’ve based their opinion on (I’m having flashbacks to Professor Brian Cox vs. Senator Malcolm Roberts on Q and A).

Sometimes it’s not worth arguing the point with the naysayer, they will not see reason, I’m looking right at you Malcolm. But you can build a team of allies (like Brian Cox and NASA), and together, and more strategically you can address the issue.

What I learnt from yesterday was, it’s not always about converting the naysayer, sometimes they can’t be reasoned with. But you can build allies that will support you, you can create more ‘lived experiences’ and doing nothing is not an option. This month is Human Rights Month, a time for everyone to stand up for our rights against violence, discrimination and abuse. I’m delighted that the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland has asked Jobs Shared to be part of it, and I will be using what I learnt yesterday to help people stand up to their naysayers and prove that flexible work is for everyone for any reason.