Playing Our Part: a workplace response to Domestic and Family Violence

Elizabeth Shaw, Manager, Advisory
Elizabeth Shaw, Manager, Advisory

Why is domestic and family violence an issue that workplaces should respond to? This is a common question, with concerns workplace involvement is an over-reach, fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, or questions about what impact workplaces can have on this issue.

However, we can’t hide from the facts:

  • Today around 1.4 million Australian women are living in an abusive relationship or have done so in the past, and of these, around 800,000 are in the paid workforce.
  • Nearly half of those experiencing violence report difficulty in getting to work. Performance is impacted by employees feeling anxious, distracted and unwell and violence can force those affected to take time off work, often without pay or by using up valuable personal leave.
  • Economic factors are the most significant predictor of whether a woman experiencing domestic violence remains, escapes or returns to an abusive relationship. Maintaining employment can provide someone experiencing violence with economic independence and a support network.

Organisations have a vital role to play in reducing the prevalence and impact of domestic and family violence – by keeping their people safe and providing them with the support they need, through counselling, referrals and paid leave.

Organisations also play a significant role in establishing cultural norms and shaping society – particularly given that perpetrators are in our workforces too. Imagine if the leaders of all our organisations called out violence against women, and challenged structures, cultures and practices that reinforced gender inequality?

Workplace initiatives reflect a recognition that workplaces can make a difference, and also that we will be unable to tackle such a prevalent, entrenched issue without a broad, whole-of-community response.

Widespread introduction of workplace responses to domestic and family violence is hopefully a lot closer today, with the Male Champions of Change launching Playing our Part, Workplace Responses to Domestic and Family Violence.

Members of the Male Champions of Change, leading Australia’s largest companies and employing a collective 600,000 employees, have called upon all leaders to ‘play their part’ in reducing domestic and family violence, with the report providing suggested actions and practical examples of steps organisations can take to support those experiencing violence.

Playing our Part features a three-level model of workplace response, with increasing levels of action and commitment.

1 Level 1 – Making a start

The first step for organisations – of any size – is awareness and beginning to understand how they can make a difference. Organisations should focus on demonstrating a broad commitment to gender equality, ensuring those who disclose their experience of violence are safe at work, and that employee referral pathways and assistance are available.

2 Level 2 – Getting serious

The transition to the second level happens when organisations move from initial awareness and uncertainty around the issue, to an acceptance of domestic and family violence as a workplace issue impacting safety and productivity. This involves communicating domestic and family violence as a workplace issue; communicating that support is available; equipping managers to implement policies; providing additional paid leave to employees experiencing violence; and providing guidance on dealing with perpetrators via workplace policies.

3 Level 3 – Integrated

At the third level, organisations work to continually improve the ways they support those impacted by violence and establish the workplace as an active partner in a whole-of-community response to ending domestic and family violence. Organisations join forces with their customers, suppliers and communities to create a culture where domestic and family violence is unacceptable.

In the words of Lieutenant General David Morrison AM (Ret’d), former Chief of Army: “It’s absolutely on everyone in the workplace, but especially on those who lead it, to do something about it. To listen without judgment – to ask, not why does she not leave, but why does he not stop?”

Read the full report
Playing our Part, Workplace Responses to Domestic Violence and Family Violence

Beth Shaw is one of the authors of Playing our Part, Workplace Responses to Domestic and Family Violence.

KPMG estimates that domestic and family violence will cost Australian business $609 million annually by 2021.

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