It’s White Ribbon Day this Saturday 25 November, a time which provides an important opportunity for organisations to reflect on how they can actively work towards the prevention and elimination of violence against women, as well as how to support those who are affected by it. The day is scheduled to coincide with the UN Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and is marked by many organisations, schools and community groups which host events to focus attention on this issue.
The White Ribbon Campaign itself, is a global movement of men and boys working to end violence against women. It was established in Canada in 1991 but is now active in more than 60 countries, including Australia, where it has become significantly more prominent in recent years and its work recognised for its significance is raising awareness of violence against women and the need to combat it.
Key facts about violence against women
The statistics surrounding the perpetuation of violence against women in Australia are sobering. In particular:
- One in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them;
- One in 5 women experience harassment within the workplace;
- Domestic and family violence is the principle cause of homelessness for women and their children;
- On average one woman a week is killed by her partner or former partner; and
- Violence against women is estimated to cost the Australian economy $21.7 billion per year.
Supporting staff who have been the victims of violence
In addition to the serious physical, psychological and economic impacts violence can have on women, it can also have significant consequences for them in the workplace. For example, their capacity to undertake their role may be affected by time they need to take off from work due the effects on their health and to attend appointments with their medical practitioners, psychologists, and court proceedings.
It is also important to be aware that in some circumstance, women affected by violence may have a heightened response to negative behaviours they experience or observe in the workplace. Employers have a legal and moral duty to provide their staff with a safe workplace and this obviously includes one that is psychologically and physically safe and that any risk of them being adversely affected by their experiences at work – whether from their colleagues, clients, customers or environment, should be carefully assessed and managed.
To best support any staff who may have been subject to violence, whether in the family, occupational or any other context, we recommend that workplaces:
- Provide compassion and latitude to your staff;
- Ensure that any disclosure of family violence or any experience of violence is treated with the utmost confidentiality and sensitivity;
- Don’t make assumptions about how staff would like the issue managed – ask staff member affected by the violence about how they would like you to respond and what if any accommodations they require. In some instances, work may be a relative sanctuary and one of the only places that they feel as if things are “normal” and they feel comfortable. In other cases, a staff member may require more specific support;
- Consider implementing an Employee Assistance Program, which allows staff access to confidential counselling services to discuss and deal with these issues, at the expense of the employer;
- In the case of family violence, consider introducing a policy that provides any employees affected by family violence with additional personal leave to deal with these issue;
- Monitor the security of the workplace to ensure that that there are appropriate safeguards to guarantee the physical safety of your staff;
- Manage employees’ personal information with great caution and ensure that no images or details about a staff member are made public, without first consulting with them; and
- Make sure that if an employee is protected by the terms an intervention order that you are aware of the specific terms and what steps the workplace may need to take to comply with its terms. This is especially relevant and necessary if the party covered by the order is also one of your employees.
Making your workplace a violence-free zone
Employees have an expectation that employers will play an active role and take responsibility in relation to the educating their workplace about respectful relationships between men and women – a 2012 report conducted by the Social Research Centre, Melbourne found that 94 per cent of employees agree that employers should take a leadership role in this area.
On a systemic level, there are some tangible steps that you can take to prevent the incidence of violence and ensure that your workplace is one in which respectful behaviour is modelled and there is a zero-tolerance approach to any inappropriate behaviour, including sexual harassment, bullying and any form of occupational violence.
Some important steps your workplace can take include:
- Conducting an audit of your workplace policies to ensure that the expected standards of behaviour are clearly documented and accessible;
- Ensuring that staff understand and receive regular training about the content of your policies;
- Regularly assessing the prevailing culture of the workplace and make sure that what the standards of behaviour your organisation says it expects are promoted and encouraged;
- Responding to any reports or complaints of inappropriate behaviour or breaches of policy in a timely and proportionate way;
- Undertaking an assessment of any potential risks; and
- Encouraging staff to feel safe to come forward with any concerns.
Becoming part of the campaign
Your workplace can also:
- Become an accredited White Ribbon Workplace – to demonstrate a formal commitment to eliminating family violence, your organisation may wish to consider becoming accredited as a White Ribbon Workplace, as have 122 other Australian organisations. This involves meeting 15 criteria under three standards to create a safe and more respectful workplace.
- Actively support White Ribbon Day – consider hosting a White Ribbon Day event to raise awareness of violence against women or otherwise, support other organisations which do so.
For more information see www.whiteribbon.org.au
About Louisa Dickinson
Louisa’s experience as an employment lawyer and conciliator has informed her sophisticated understanding of the complexities of workplace disputes and their resolution. Louisa brings strong communication and analytical skills, as well as a sensitive, practical approach, to the workplace investigations and mediations she undertakes at Worklogic.
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