800,000 female victims of violence are working: Employers urged to step up and change the conversation | Women's Agenda

800,000 female victims of violence are working: Employers urged to step up and change the conversation

If you work with a number of women, there’s a good chance some of your colleagues have been or will be victims of violence.

According to Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, it’s also possible those victims of violence don’t feel it’s appropriate to bring up their situation at work. That, she says, was certainly her experience.

One in three women will experience violence at some point in her lifetime; an alarmingly high rate that means no one can avoid the wide-reaching prevalence of the issue across Australia.

Indeed according to a new report prepared by KPMG and released with the support of Batty today, around 1.4 million Australian women are living or have lived in an abusive relationship, and 800,000 of those are in the paid workforce.

 

“I’ve spent this year talking at nearly 300 events,” Batty said this morning. “My message is always clear. This is an issue we all share. It doesn’t happen to other people, it happens to people like us. When we come to work we bring elements of our home life with us.”

That means violence, particularly intimate-partner violence, must no longer be considered a domestic issue alone. Rather it’s a major societal issue reaching into our workplaces, and employers have a responsibility to step up for the wellbeing of their staff.

A number of large employers are doing just, with organisations like KPMG, Telstra and ANZ now offering domestic violence leave and other policies designed to assist those affected by violence.

It makes business sense: Their workforces are often in the tens of thousands. Statistically, there are therefore thousands of women showing up to their offices every day who have been or could be a victim of violence.

As Batty also noted, our workplaces can also play a major part in changing the wider cultural attitude to women and violence. She said we must adjust our attitudes from placing responsibility on the victim and open more avenues for victims to feel supported. 

“The workplace is a community, it’s part of society. If we have every area of our community supporting us rather than blaming us, it will change the world,” she said. “In my experience, it wasn’t that you couldn’t talk about it, but that it wasn’t appropriate to talk about it.”

Former Lt David Morrison said that for many of the 800,000 Australian women who are victims of violence, the workplace can be a source of refuge, if their colleagues play a part. “There are steps that can be taken by leaders that will make a telling difference to the lives of women and children,” he said.

The report commissioned by the Male Champions of Change, a group of very senior leaders chaired by Liz Broderick that employ a collective 600,000 people, is designed to take awareness of the issue one step further.

They’ve produced a three-step process to implementing a workplace response to violence and urge every organization – large and small – to consider their response.

On releasing the report this morning, KPMG CEO Gary Wingrove conceded that as a business leader he didn’t initially recognize domestic violence as a workplace issue. “I actually questioned it initially,” he said.

But after participating in a ‘listen and learn’ session with Batty and other victims of violence in November last year – along with a number of other male ‘champions’ – he developed a much broader understanding on the issue. “We at KPMG are an organisation that employs 6000 people and somewhat mirror society, so I recognised it then.”

Wingrove said KPMG has responded by introducing a new domestic violence policy that includes addressing areas like flexible working, paid leave for victims, counseling and education.

Meanwhile, Telstra offered on update on its own domestic violence policy. Since being first introduced in 2014, 43 people have used the additional leave provisions, 29 of them women. 

Telstra’s Human Resources Executive Katherine Paroz said anonymity has particuly made the policy successful. “Our people leaders are empowered to make decisions to grant family violence leave without being required to ask the employee for proof,” she said.

She recommended organisations get started on a domestic violence response, rather than waiting for the perfect conditions. “Our policy took six months to design, develop and approve,” she said. “With persistence, I have no doubt the rest of corporate Australia could achieve this as well.”

The three steps organisations can take for responding to domestic violence include:

1. Make a start. For organisations of any size, awareness is the first step. The report calls on orgnisations to focus on demonstrating a wide-ranging commitment to gender equality, and ensuring those that disclose any experience of violence are safe at work, and have referral pathways for more help.
2. Get serious. This is the move from initial awareness to accepting violence is an issue impacting safety and productivity. This step calls on organisations to communicate the prevalence of violence, provide additional paid leave to employees experiencing violence, equip managers to implement policies, and offer guidelines on dealing with perpetrators at work.
3. Offer an integrated response. This step will see organisations continually improve how they’re supporting those affected by violence and establish their workplace as part of a whole-of-community response to the issue.

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