Liz Forsyth: influencing social change through economic reality

KPMG employs some remarkable women. Liz Forsyth is the Managing Partner of Health, Ageing and Human Services. She led the team that mapped the cost of violence against women in Australia and advised on the subsequent recommendations to government.

This is her professional story.

From her first job as a social worker in disability services in 1984, Liz Forsyth has never lost her passion for social inclusion and a just society. Now a board member and deputy chair of KPMG in Australia, her influence has journeyed with her from her first job with the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service to an advisor and advocate for ending violence against women to the United Nations and the World Bank.

Liz says, “I have always been interested in social justice and equity. It’s what I do. To me unfounded barriers, just there because of history or culture, that limit people’s potential are really not acceptable. In a contemporary world we have to allow people to realise their potential and it’s really important we have people to challenge and remove those barriers.”

Liz’s professional challenges are socially complex problems needing more than a simple linear solution. Solving these problems requires the ability to influence across many jurisdictions with multiple and often dispersed and disengaged stakeholders.

In Australia, the cost of gender-based violence is $14 billion a year or 1.1 percent of GDP.

Understanding the economic cost of a social problem is a persuasive argument for change: allowing the scale of the problem to be measured in the same currency as other economic and social issues. Facts and figures go beyond a philosophical discussion of rights. They engage the emotions and create a value chain of compelling evidence.

In 2009, Liz headed a team working closely with the National Council for Women to contribute to the government’s National Plan of Action to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children. This was the first in this area, influencing government policy at both the state and national level and enabling government and non-government organisations to advocate for change based on compelling economic evidence.

This work of mapping of the cost of violence has since been recognised by the United Nations as influential in identifying the cost and impact of violence against women on our society. And in December 2012, Liz was the only business representative invited by UN Women to present at the December 2012  stakeholders forum held in preparation for 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CWS) in New York.

Producing sophisticated and influential cost estimates of the wide-ranging impacts of domestic violence in Australia is important not just for developed countries but also for the developing world in formulating their policies. And these policies also extend to workplaces.

A key recommendation of the National Action Plan was for companies to incorporate leave arrangements that support women who have experienced or are experiencing domestic or family violence into their workplaces. KPMG has adopted this recommendation, but there are still too many private sector organisations who have not.

Liz’s work on mapping the cost of domestic violence continues. She says, “Facts speak to some, experience to others. Both are important to keep the issue alive.”

Violence against women is always and always will be unacceptable.

Feature Image Copyright:  / 123RF Stock Photo

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