Violence against women: a conversation that needs to happen in every workplace

Last year, I signed the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles on behalf of KPMG Australia. The Women’s Empowerment Principles are a set of principles for business offering guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community.

Violence against women is an abuse of power by men who fail to recognise women’s equality.

In the first seven weeks of 2015, thirteen women died from domestic violence in Australia. Twenty three percent of Australians who had ever been married or in a de-facto relationship, experienced violence by a partner at some time during the relationship and eighty two percent of domestic violence cases are never reported to the police.

These statistics are considered conservative, as they are drawn from a narrow definition of domestic violence, but even so, they are way too high. The statistics speak for themselves. Violence against women has to stop.

Perhaps we are not explicit enough when we speak about it. Violence against women is not only physical, it is also threatening behaviour, verbal abuse, restrictions on movement and opportunity and other emotional or psychological abuse.

Men often trivialise violence. In a 2013 survey by the White Ribbon Association 59 percent of men believe women make up or exaggerate claims of violence. This is up 3 percent from 2009, with these beliefs even stronger in men who don’t believe in women’s equality.

Violence against women is an enormous financial and productivity burden (irrespective of the emotional and physical damage to individuals and families) and a significant cost to the Australian community. Such violence is estimated to cost 14.7 USD billion in 2013, roughly 1.1 percent of Australia’s GDP or for every man woman and child – 6500 USD per person. Importantly these cost estimates are conservative, as they are based on prevalence data, which captures reported violence only – in other words, unreported violence is not included.

A 2011 survey of Australian workers found 30 percent of respondents had experienced domestic violence, with nearly half reporting it affected their capacity to work. So it is not only a personal problem, but also a workplace issue and can seriously affect women’s ability to work at a time when they are both emotionally and financially vulnerable.

So what can we do?

As the CEO of a large professional services firm, I believe it is vital we speak out about what is often a very uncomfortable topic.

It can be equally uncomfortable for women to talk about, so in our workplaces we must ensure that it is easy for both women and men to seek confidential assistance and counselling. We need to make flexible work arrangements accessible with easy access to appropriate leave.

UN Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, has launched a “solidarity” campaign, highlighting that violence against women is not just a ‘domestic’ issue. It is a human rights issue affecting women and girls in every country in the world.

Emma Watson, UN Ambassador’s remarks from the 2014 September conference on why she is a feminist, were watched over 11 million times. They created 1.2 billion social media conversations and encouraged men from almost every country in the world to sign the HeForShe commitment.

In the week, when we specifically remember fifty percent of the population and the astounding contribution they make to the world I urge you to acknowledge with me that, “Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue that requires my participation. I commit to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls”.

Zero tolerance for violence against women – nothing else is acceptable.

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5 thoughts on “Violence against women: a conversation that needs to happen in every workplace

  1. I absolutely agree an outstanding article on a topic that needs to be discussed openly. Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate it can touch anyone from any background. Zero tolerance is the only way forward.

  2. It so nice that KPMG, as a firm, is taking a stand and speaking out about this. We all know someone who has experienced domestic violence, its just that sometimes we don’t KNOW we know somebody who is living with the terrible secret. I’ve sat next to people at KPMG who were going through it, I have a sister that lived with the terrible secret and “shame” for years before almost losing her life. We need to speak out so the victims know we care and that they can talk to us and ask for help. Zero tolerance for violence against women – nothing else is acceptable – ditto that!

  3. Outstanding article. Those statistics are indeed disgraceful and is so, so terrific to see a male boss highlighting this issue with passion and actually asking (and answering) what organisations like KPMG can do about it.

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