With an estimated one in six women in the Australian workforce having experienced domestic violence, workplaces have an important role in supporting victims according to UQ alumni and gender diversity advocate Julie McKay.
Ms McKay is the Gender Advisor to the Chief of the Defence Force, former Executive Director of Australian National Committee for UN Women and recent ACT winner of the 2016 Australian Award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership.
She will feature as keynote speaker for a fundraising lunch hosted by UQ’s Faculty of Business, Economics and Law (BEL) during Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month.
Ms McKay said organisations could support victims through simple measures such as having clear policies and support procedures in place, modelling behaviour and being flexible if a worker is affected by violence.
“Organisations are starting to see and accept that domestic violence is a workplace issue,” she said.
“Apart from the obvious personal implications, there are business costs such as increased absenteeism and reduced performance.
“The first step is for business leaders to stand up and acknowledge that violence against women is a huge problem in our society and is a workplace issue.”
Ms McKay said organisations needed to have a clear policy and equip their managers with the skills and knowledge to support staff affected by violence and direct them to services that can help.
“It’s not usual for victims to regret disclosure or to not take immediate action,” she said.
“That can be distressing for those trying to help, but the organisation’s role is to provide support and advice without judgement or expectations of the actions that an individual ‘should’ take.
“Managers who recognise that people experiencing violence may not immediately seek further support will be best equipped to support team members experiencing violence.”
Ms McKay said it was important managers discussed personal safety options such as changing the staff member’s email address or phone number or allowing them to work externally from a safe place and providing flexibility.
Supporting a staff member to develop a personal safety plan can be a very valuable role for managers to play.
“Best practice is to offer additional paid leave,” she said.
“Those who are experiencing violence often use up their sick leave recovering from injuries or getting counselling or mediation.
“Many companies are now offering an additional ten days’ paid domestic violence and family leave.
“This obviously requires disclosure but doesn’t require evidence and is granted without question to support the person experiencing violence.
“To date, companies who offer it report that only very small numbers of staff opt to take it and there is no evidence of it being misused.”
Employers also had an important role in modelling cultural change.
“If one in six women in the Australian workforce are victims then there must also be a large percentage of perpetrators in the workforce,” Ms McKay said.
“There must be zero tolerance towards bullying and harassment in the workplace.
“It’s important we encourage and empower employees to call out inappropriate behaviour.
“Violence is about power and control. The lowest forms start as bullying and sexist jokes. It’s a continuum for some people. If they get away with it, it can escalate.
“Organisations need policies about the way we treat each other and our leaders need to model inclusive behaviour and respectful relationships.”
Ms McKay said workplaces could also contribute to the broader community issue through philanthropic acts such as helping to fund a shelter or goods or services to support victims.
In many cases, a barrier to leaving a violent home was unwillingness to leave the family pet behind according to RSPCA Queensland’s Zoë Black, also a UQ alumna.
She said refuge accommodation was unable to take pets and victims feared what would happen to their pets.
“We need to eliminate the barriers to getting people out of these situations,” she said.
UQ BEL is partnering with DV Connect and the RSPCA Pets In Crisis program to present the Domestic Violence Awareness Luncheon on 31 May. All proceeds will directly contribute to helping these important Queensland programs. Click here for further information.