Published: 6 October 2021

By Ian Kidd, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Nottingham

It’s an open secret that some of our colleagues resist initiatives that aim to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion. Whether by preventing or delaying them or watering down proposals, they are real obstacles to improving our organisations and networks. So, why do these people resist? If we understand their reasons, we’re better placed to deal with them.

Some people resist for good, principled reasons. EDI work isn’t beyond criticism and any policy should be critically discussed before it’s implemented. Many people reasonably worry about a tendency to focus on racism without due reference to ageism, say, or sensibly object to the idea that implicit bias training by itself is a ‘silver bullet’ solution.

I think there are four common reasons people resist EDI work. Granted, there are many other reasons. But these seem to me the most common:

 1. Naivete

Some people resist because they’re naïve: lacking important sorts of experience and understanding, they have an unduly positive view of the world. It has three forms:

The naïf has an unduly rosy vision of the world. They genuinely don’t see the need for difficult new policies and working arrangements. What they need is education and training.

2. Conservative

I mean this in the everyday sense of wanting to preserve established arrangements that one thinks are valuable, to oneself anyway. Sometimes current arrangements are worth keeping and change should always be carefully considered. But there are bad sorts of conservatism.

  • Lazy conservatism: EDI work often requires making changes which means doing work which some people lack the motivation to do. Granted, many people are overworked, but many otherwise energetic people suddenly lack energy when it comes to EDI.
  • Selfish conservatism: EDI work often aims at changing how we share resources and power in ways that can disadvantage certain people used to getting more than their fair share. Equality often feels like oppression to those accustomed to privilege.

3. Pride

Many resisters see EDI work as an implicit criticism of their personal character, intellectual integrity, or professional competence. Think of familiar frustrations with EDI: ‘Are you saying I’m racist?’, ‘Who are you to tell me how to manage my own department?’ Granted, we must be careful to avoid accusation. Demonisation rarely helps diplomacy and we need people on side.

Pride works at two levels:

  • Individual pride: EDI work is experienced as an insult or affront to one’s abilities, competence or moral character.
  • Structural pride: EDI work is seen as challenging the dignity or integrity of a tradition, institution, or discipline that one identifies with.

In many cases, proud resistance is intensified because EDI work, in many institutions, is done by colleagues belonging to socially marginalised groups.

4. Hostility

A sad fact is that many people resist EDI work because they are hostile to the interests and needs of the individuals and groups that work aims to help. Hostiles includes sexists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, Islamophobes, anti-Semites, and cultural chauvinists. The hostile might enjoy harming these people – scuppering their careers, denying them opportunities, or subjecting them to emotional and sexual abuse. Others may, perversely, feel it their duty to maintain systems of oppression

These harms play out at two levels:

Why should we understand reasons for resistance?

Obviously, there are many reasons people resist EDI work. Some people slide between these reasons as you put them under challenge. Dealing with resisters is often exhausting work and one way to make it easier is to better understand the source of the resistance. Practically, this means we can find the right solutions to the problem – the diagnosis should guide the cure. Morally, some reasons for resistance are worse than others. I could sympathise with laziness, but not with a desire to ruin the lives and careers of people of colour.

It’s a sad fact that counter-resistance is an essential part of EDI work. Hopefully the better we understand the reasons for resistance, the better we become at counteracting it.