Resistance and common challenges – and how to overcome them

Challenges to the set-up, roll-out, implementation, management, monitoring and evaluation of a gender equality plan (GEP) are manifold and frequent. Some challenges are related to a lack of success factors; others may take pervasive forms of resistance or are institutional and/or administrative barriers that need to be tackled in a range of ways. It is important to state that work on gender equality does not usually happen rapidly and may appear slow, with concrete results and achievements not being fully realised for a number of years. In the following, challenges in relation to gender equality work and GEPs are pointed out. Suggestions on how to overcome these challenges are also provided.

Challenges regarding:

Engagement and mobilisation of stakeholders

Of course, it is easier to develop and implement a GEP if the organisation is aware of gender equality issues, recognises the need for a GEP and supports its activities, especially the senior management. However, this ideal case does not happen too often. Getting (almost) everyone on board can prove difficult. Hereafter, you can find common challenges in this regard.

Organisational resources

Gender equality work needs a strong foundation in organisational resources: on the one hand regarding human and financial resources, on the other concerning evidence on gender issues in the organisation, and gender knowledge and expertise.

Lack of gender knowledge and expertise

Some universities and research institutions may not have a previous history or tradition of teaching or engaging with gender studies or practical gender equality work. This can be challenging for the team/person responsible for the GEP development and can make it even more difficult to convince staff and stakeholders of the importance and benefits of gender equality work and GEPs. An initial discussion about valuable knowledge could be a remedy in this case. This challenge may require support from and utilisation of gender equality networks (at national, regional or international level) and the buying-in of gender expertise to enhance institutional capacity and knowledge. One challenge in that regard could be that it is not possible to transfer objectives, measures or tasks from other organisations; they can serve as inspiration, but have to be adapted to the specific context of your organisation. Have a look at the videos and webinars in tab 2 and the tools and resources in tab 3, if you want to deepen your knowledge. You can also use the ‘Join’ section of the GEAR tool to engage with other gender equality practitioners.


The work of gender equality is highly dependent on the room for manoeuvre: this means that the national and political context and the organisational set-up in terms of governance influence what can be done and how. For example, translating ideas into formal gender equality structures and policies can be difficult if the organisation has limited authority due to the political environment.

  • The webinar 'Gender in R & I: indroductory concepts' by the Gender Equality Academy' provides information on the main concepts of gender equality in research, the past and current EU framework and policies (including Horizon Europe building blocks), the concept of institutional change, intersectional approaches, gender inequalities and structural barriers, and gender equality indicators. The course content is available online.
  • The joint webinar 'Gender balance in leadership and decision-making' by the GE Academy’, produced in 2020 by the EU-funded projects ‘Gender equality actions in research institutions to transform gender roles’ (GEARING ROLES) and Gender Equality Academy aims, to explain and deepen the viewer’s understanding of the role of gender bias, while exploring resistance to gender equality; strategies for tackling bias and resistance are also discussed. The course content is available online.
  • The content of the video on overcoming resistance by the ACT project is described as follows: ‘Gender Equality Plans aim for structural change in organizations. Changing the way people and institutions work and operate is difficult and takes time. Resistance to change has been identified as one of the main reasons why gender equality plans can fail. Identifying different forms and causes of resistance is a first step to effectively overcoming them.’
  • The content of the video on meritocracy by the ACT project is described as follows: ‘From myths to facts: Meritocracy in academia. Many in academia believe in meritocracy, that success should be based on talent and effort rather than class and privilege. If academia would allocate resources and power solely to the ‘best’ and ‘brightest’, regardless of gender, race, or class, we expect to find equal numbers of women and men in leadership positions.’
  • Watch the video 'Bias and resistances: exploring challenges to gender equality in leadership and decision-making' by the GEARING ROLES project and the Gender Equality Academy if you are interested in understanding the role of gender bias in leadership and decision-making, exploring resistance to gender equality in leadership and decision-making, and following the discussion on strategies tackling bias and resistance.
  • Watch the video 'Gender and leadership in higher education and research: institutional challenges and resistances' by the GEARING ROLES project.

To gain more knowledge in general, you can have a look at specific conferences (e.g. European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education) or platforms (e.g. Gender Equality Academy). Consult GenPort, an online portal and repository that provides access to research, policy and practical materials on gender, science, technology and innovation. Search Eurogender's stakeholders directory to find gender experts and trainers in your country or GenPORT's people directory, where you can filter the type of stakeholder group you are looking for (e.g. gender networks or gender equality practitioners and advisers).

  • Consult EIGE’s institutional transformation tool of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), which has a section dedicated to ‘dealing with resistance’.
  • The Handbook on Resistance to Gender Equality in Academia, drawn up by the EU-funded FESTA project (2016), summarises the barriers experienced along the process of change and provides a list of recommendations for dealing with them. The handbook thus aims to give clues to the audience about the possible interpretations of a case of resistance and the suggested practices to tackle it.
  • The toolkit report Resistances to Structural Change in Gender Equality by the project ‘Supporting the promotion of equality in research and academia’ (SUPERA) (2021) describes the experiences of several Horizon 2020 structural change projects, particularly SUPERA, Gender Equality Academy, Gender-SMART and GEARING ROLES. It aims to provide practical support for implementers. Here, you can also find a presentation by the authors on the same topic.
  • ‘Addressing gender inequalities in academia: challenges and strategies to overcome resistances’. Presentation by Mónica Lopes (University of Coimbra) at the First Annual Conference on Recruitment, Retention and Career Progression Of Women in Academia, GEARING ROLES project, University of Lisbon, 27 November 2019.
  • ‘Dealing with resistances’. Presentation by Ester Cois (Università degli studi di Cagliari) at the conference on ‘Inequality vs inclusiveness in changing academic governance: policies, resistances, opportunities’, University of Naples Federico II, 16–17 September 2019.
  • ‘Resistance of change – Change the resistance!’ by Anita Thaler (Interdisziplinäres Forschungszentrum (IFZ), Austria) and Jennifer Dahmen-Adkins (Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen University, Germany), virtual workshop, 24 August 2020.
  • Diogo, S., Jordão, C., Carvalho, T., Himi, H., Ashkenazi, M., Mešková, V., Thaler, A. and Dahmen-Adkins, J, ‘Change in research and in higher education institutions: forms of resistance in a research-action project’, CHANGE project.
  • Mergaert, L. and Lombardo, E. (2016), ‘Resistance in gender training and mainstreaming processes’, in Bustelo, M., Ferguson, L. and Forest M. (eds), The Politics of Feminist Knowledge Transfer – Gender training and gender expertise, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, pp. 43–61
  • Powell, S., Ah-King, M. and Hussénius, A. (2017), “ ‘Are we to become a gender university?’ Facets of resistance to a gender equality project”, Gender, Work and Organization, Vol. 20, pp. 127–143.
  • Jordão, C., Carvalho, T. and Diogo, S. (2020), ‘Implementing gender equality plans through an action-research approach: challenges and resistances’, CHANGE project.
  • The authors of ‘Summary of experiences shared through AGORA (GEAPs’ implementation)’ (2015) from the ‘Effective gender equality in research and academia’ (EGERA) project dedicate a chapter to their experiences on identifying resistances.

Regarding challenges in general

  • Espinosa, J., Bustelo, M. and Velasco, M. (2016), ‘Successes and challenges in the implementation of gender equality action plans’, GENOVATE project.
  • Jordão, C., Carvalho, T. and Diogo, S. (2020), ‘Implementing gender equality plans through an action-research approach: challenges and resistances’, CHANGE project.