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Pushback: what we get and why we think we get it

We're pretty upfront about our mission, but some people just don't want to hear about it.
We're pretty upfront about our mission, but some people just don't want to hear about it.

We get more pushback than you might expect. Well, that probably depends; some of you might read this post with not a single iota of surprise. But Juggle staff are occasionally nonplussed to find that not everyone is on board with our mission.

And it normally IS the mission – not the product or the method – that takes the flak. We occasionally chat with business owners who aren’t convinced by the merits of flexible working. That’s their prerogative (and we’re confident that the facts prove them wrong). It simply means they’re not the right fit for Juggle (for now at least – we anticipate that flexible working will increasingly become the norm. )

The big mission – 50% of female business leaders by 2027 – is where the surprise pushback comes from. We think that gender equality is a worthwhile and, to be honest, a fairly non-controversial goal. And our method of pursuing the mission – evangelising flexible working and supporting self-managed professionals – doesn’t have a gendered component (although at a structural level it will probably benefit women and especially mothers most of all). Everyone should be entitled to work flexibly, and we support every professional using the same platform, tools and method.

 

What we get

People that chafe at the mission normally give us the same sort of criticism – that we’re not meritocratic. That by working specifically to enable women we’re either denying men the same resources (which, as noted above, is completely incorrect) or working to create a world where things other than merit are the markers of advancement. We feel this is a little ironic, as the creation of a true meritocracy – where the structural barriers that currently hold people back are removed – is exactly what we’re trying to do.

We always use the same scenario here: imagine a husband and wife with similar career paths and expectations, at a similar level. They decide as a pair that they both want to have a child. Currently the woman will bear the brunt of this decision, and pay the greatest career price, regardless of how skilled she is or how hard she is prepared to work. If the man wants to share the responsibilities he may find the deck stacked against him. This is not meritocratic.

It is also not the fault of the husband, it’s just the way the system is set up. Changing the system – not the people in it – is the only way to secure the positive change we want. But we raise this point because we think it’s relevant to why we experience pushback. At its heart, it’s about the system, not the gendered issue: some people are just more invested in the current system than perhaps even they know.

Everything that follows is our opinion; it would be impossible for us to get the feedback we need to be certain. But a) we think it’s worth exploring and b) it’s something we’ve wanted to get off our collective chests for a while now. We’d like to talk about why we get pushback – what the feelings are behind people’s words. We think that every bit of criticism about our mission contains at least one of the following emotional arguments (even if people don’t consciously admit it, which is why this will only ever be our opinion):

 

I’m not a bad person, therefore I can’t be on the wrong side, therefore there can’t be a problem.

This is basic human nature, and is the bedrock of most contentious moral discussions, unfortunately. It’s the same reason vegans and vegetarians find themselves undermined, why millennials are sneered at for the causes they engage with, why teenagers who protest about gun violence and NFL players who protest about racial inequality are slandered or deliberately misunderstood.

When you take a stand for something a moral framework is created. You think your way of doing things is right – as in, the most moral. For example, we believe that true equality of opportunity is the only thing that’s right and fair. But by saying that doing something is the right thing to do comes the inbuilt implication that not doing it is the wrong thing to do. A vegan who doesn’t eat meat for moral reasons is an implicit challenge to anyone who does eat meat – how much do they really care about animals and the environment? The statement “I am vegan” can sound like a judgement, even though it’s (probably) not.

Note that we’re not saying that one is necessarily more moral than the other – you may have examined your own motives and reasoning and found nothing to feel ashamed of – only that whenever someone says to you “this is what I think is right” a challenge always follows. What do you think is right, and are you doing it?  

Most people get through this conundrum by just… not thinking about it. In some cases this might be because you’ve got a personal stake – however minor – in the status quo. Say you love burgers, you care about the environment, and you know that cattle farming is terrible for the environment. Your only choice (if you don’t want to be miserable) is to either swear off red meat or just… not think about.

At Juggle we believe that most people are aware the current system has inbuilt prejudices against women and other groups. And, in order to avoid those prejudices themselves, or to not rock the boat, or to not be made miserable by the unfairness of it all, or to just get through the day (and all of these are perfectly valid aims), many people chose simply to ignore the systemic issues around them, pretending they don’t exist. If they don’t exist, if there’s nothing that needs fixing, then it’s perfectly fine to work with and profit from the system.

Nobody wants to be a bad person. Nobody wants to find themselves on the “wrong” side. And sometimes the simplest way of avoiding being on the wrong side is to pretend there are no sides at all. 

 

My success is my own and I need it, it can’t be down to anything else.

This is totally understandable on an emotional level, and we sympathise. It’s tough to check your privilege. If it weren’t we wouldn’t need to remind ourselves to do it.

And when it comes to your professional successes it can be especially difficult, because you know you had to work hard for it. You were there – you remember the late nights, the early mornings, the exams, the caffeine-soaked hazes of tough projects, the challenging bosses, the inventive solutions. Nobody can tell you that you didn’t work hard.

But acknowledging privilege is NOT about denigrating your own hard work. It’s only about admitting that other people may not have advantages you have. The issue is that many people struggle to do the latter without the former.

We’re inclined to to attribute every tone-deaf article we see saying that a particular group’s issues stem from a lack of hard work to this emotional attitude. The flawed thinking that, by acknowledging that another group may have to work harder for the same result, your own hard work is somehow worth less than it was before.

We also think that the “merit” argument that gets thrown our way stems largely from this. People understandably rely on their own success as part of their self-worth. Something that they perceive – rightly or, we believe, wrongly – to lessen that success is just too damaging and hurtful to countenance.        

 

I’m terrified that I won’t fit in on the other side, therefore this side must be perfect.

We think this drives a lot of the pushback we get against flexible working; we get this one from employers much more often than professionals. It’s likely that this attitude is equally distributed, the key difference is that professionals that come to Juggle have already decided that they want to work in an atypical way (and have often had the failings of the current system made very clear to them). They still often see flexible working as a challenge – just a challenge they’ve decided they’re ready to meet.

Again, it makes perfect emotional sense. If you’ve been successful under a particular system – and especially if you feel like your success is tied to a particular system – then a claim that your way of doing things is inefficient or incorrect, that you’ve been doing it wrong all this time, is likely to raise hackles.

Being apprehensive is completely understandable. It is, at heart, a fear of change/fear of the unknown. Everyone feels this. We think the main issue is that people cannot admit to this completely logical fear – and therefore have it assuaged – because they’re worried about what it says about them. But here we think that people concentrate too hard on the manner of the change, rather than what the change represents. Unless you’re a proper misogynist – something that very few people are – then more women in business leadership is not really what you’re concerned by. It’s the uncertainty that that change brings: will your work still be seen and valued? Will you have to change the way you communicate? Will your path to success becoming more complicated or competitive? 

Some people deal with this uncertainty by maintaining that the status quo is fine, that nothing needs to change.

 

The men in my life can’t be complicit in inequality, therefore feminists must just suck.

We felt compelled to include this although it’s more one that members of staff have spoken about together rather than something that we’ve dealt with as a business. And in reality you can replace the words “men” with almost any mass group and “feminists” with almost any group seeking systemic change. But when we see individuals being dismissive of groups that are seeking positive change on their behalf, we often touch on a familiar but disquieting argument: that if you admit to systemic issues you must also admit that everyone who you know and like and trust that benefits from those systems is complicit.

This is a really tough one because to a certain extent it’s true – it’s largely the behaviour of men that needs to change if women are to be truly equal in the workplace – but individually those people that you know and like and trust have no animus against you and want you to succeed. They’re complicit in the same way people who eat hamburgers are complicit in the destruction of the rainforest: at a scale that’s individually so tiny as to be ludicrous, completely without intent and probably only through ignorance.

But even admitting that can be a lot (it’s a difficult dinner party subject, for sure), so for some people it’s easier to simply pretend that you don’t need any help from the group that’s working on your behalf, and that they’ve got it all wrong anyway.

 

What it all means

We hope this doesn’t all come off as us trying to undermine the opinions of others. But when someone disagrees with something truly fundamental – the bedrock on which you’ve based everything else – your options are limited. We’re not going to change or dilute the mission, not for anyone, so the best we can do is try to understand where the pushback comes from, and empathise where we can. And in doing so we’ve learned a few things that have proven to be good lessons for the rest of our business, and maybe life in general:

  • Often the “thing” that people are upset about isn’t the thing they’re really upset about. We’ve noticed a repeated theme in the pushback we get – that just as the meritocratic argument is used to avoid the issue of systemic prejudice, so issues of gender/diversity actually mask more general, systemic issues. People who disagree with the mission rarely do so because they’re misogynists. They do so because they’re worried about change and the consequences it might have. Reassuring them about that change can sometimes be more effective than engaging with the thing they purport to be annoyed about.
  • Most people are just unwilling to change. Change is scary, or difficult, or frustrating after you’ve already worked hard to get to where you are. Lots of people would rather avoid engaging with an argument if it means they’re going to have to change themselves as a result of it. We’re out to create change, so this can be tough, but it’s the job we chose.
  • People are often antogonised by what they think you’re saying rather than what you’re actually saying. This is the “vegan judgment” thing again. 50% female business leaders means just that, it doesn’t mean “anyone not actively working to this aim is a bad person.”
  • People react very poorly when you second guess their meanings. The inverse of the above point (a little bit ironic, but it can’t be helped). Don’t respond as if their issue is representative of a wider problem (even if you’re sure it is). Stick to the context you’ve been presented with. Often people are annoyed “in advance” because they think you’re going to label them because of their beliefs. Refraining from doing so allows you to actually challenge their beliefs, instead of them turtling up and ending the discussion.
  • People are prepared to be challenged, as long as you go about it in the right way. Be polite, and get one point ironed out at a time. It sometimes feels like people give us a negative reaction to gauge how we in turn will react; staying calm and sticking to the facts does get through to people eventually.
  • Some things aren’t worth compromising on. Goes without saying, hopefully, but figuring out ahead-of-time what you’re prepared to debate and what you think is inviolable saves you time and brings clarity to your arguments (this is super useful for anyone working in recruitment – or anyone hoping to get hired).
  • It’s better to do good than be good. Talk – even this article – is ultimately cheap. Acknowledging a problem exists, and even trying to demonstrate its existence to others, means little if you’re not also trying to solve that problem. Sometimes it’s better to forget about the people that cannot be convinced, and just get on with the job.

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