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Corporations Can Prevent Family Violence - Royal Commission

12 August 2015 at 11:10 am
Ellie Cooper
Gender inequality in the workplace is one of the underlying causes of the family violence epidemic that affects one in three women, the first Royal Commission into family violence has heard.

Ellie Cooper | 12 August 2015 at 11:10 am


Corporations Can Prevent Family Violence - Royal Commission
12 August 2015 at 11:10 am

Gender inequality in the workplace is one of the underlying causes of the family violence epidemic that affects one in three women, the first Royal Commission into family violence has heard.

On Monday, the Commission, held in Victoria, focussed on the need for culture and attitude changes in the workplace and the community.

Project Manager of Health Promotion at YMCA Australia, Scott Holmes, gave evidence at the Royal Commission, explaining the ingrained nature of gender inequality and how it permeates the workplace.

“Confusion between sex and gender is a very common one. It leads of course to people therefore thinking that our sex is our destiny, that those sorts of things – those around the sorts of jobs you should do, the sorts of ways you should behave as men and women – that those things are fixed,” Holmes said.  

“Out of that of course comes the gender inequality because those sorts of fixed ideas become then systemic.”

Holmes led the YMCA Victoria “Y Respect Gender” pilot project, funded by VicHealth over a three-year period, which utilised a “whole of organisation approach” to challenge gender stereotypes in the workplace.

“It wasn’t just the CEO who was doing it. It was an expectation that everyone across the organisation had a part to play in achieving a different way of thinking about how gender was performed and enacted within the organisation,” he said.

“People were able to, in their own way and with their own observations, start to make changes that had… quite a large social impact on the way that people conceive of gender and gender relationships and gender norms.”

After giving evidence, Holmes told to Pro Bono Australia News about the correlation between “male entitlement” and family violence.

“It’s the way that men see women as inferior, as not as important, it’s those sort of attitudes and they way that they get expressed systemically across society that lays the groundwork for violence against women,” he said.

“Where men view women as equals and expect equality and do not see themselves as superior that they’ll be less inclined therefore to use violence as a means to solving problems or having power over the woman they’re trying to control.

“But if there’s not that attitude, and there’s an attitude of superiority, then men are possibly more likely to see violence as an acceptable way to relate to the woman.”

He said challenging social norms and creating a long-term shift in ingrained beliefs is needed to combat the problem.

“It’s working both towards structural change but also towards attitudinal change as well, to changing the sorts of expectations people have of how the world works,” he said.

“To some extent at the moment, buried in all our heads is an expectation that inequality is the norm, so it’s about changing some of that unconscious attitude so we all have a much stronger expectation that equality between the sexes is how things should be.”

According to Holmes, simple steps taken in the workplace can improve gender equality.

“It’s the way they employ people, the way that they promote people, ensuring that there’s no unconscious bias affecting the choices that they make, ensuring that working conditions are equitable,” he said.

“When are meeting times held? Do meeting times allow for staff who have young children? And the way meetings are run – do they give equal weight to different voices, particularly women’s voices?

“It’s all those ways that organisations have opportunities to reinforce gender equity principles and the way they operate.”

Telstra has made groundbreaking advances in supporting victims of family violence, as Pro Bono Australia News reported in January. General Manager of Diversity and Industries, Troy Roderick, explained that the corporation’s strategy stemmed from its gender equality principles.

“If you go back to the belief that the issue of domestic and family violence is central to gender equality I would suggest to you that the positive climate that we have around gender equality in Telstra is partly the result of our focus on this issue,” Roderick said.

“It’s everybody’s issue. There are not these artificial boundaries that exist between corporates and home and community – we’re all in this together.”  

Telstra’s involvement in the issue started in 2009 when the corporation began supporting the White Ribbon campaign. In 2014 it was part of the pilot workplace accreditation program.

Earlier this year Telstra announced all Australian employees will be given up to 10 days of paid leave if they, or someone they know, are victims of family violence.

The corporation shared their strategy in a submission to the Royal Commission, and Telstra Chief Talent Officer, Katherine Paroz, gave evidence at Monday’s hearing.

“Understanding the prevalence of family and domestic violence in Australia, and as a large Australian employer, we understood that it’s likely that there are employees who work for Telstra who are experiencing family and domestic violence,” Paroz said.

“The reasons behind [the policy], for us, are to have an engaged and productive and healthy and safe employee-base and for them to feel supported at all times by their employer.”

Paroz explained to the commission why it’s important to have named domestic and family violence leave, rather than additional personal leave.

“[With named leave] the manager is given the best opportunity to be supportive and to provide resources and support to the individual. And in our case, coming from a place where they have some education about what will be the best thing for the individual, whether it’s referrals to our employee-assistance program or to other types of support,” she said.

“We absolutely understand that in these circumstances the financial independence or the ability of the individual experiencing the difficulty to continue to be able to earn a salary and pay their bills and all of the things that come with that is just of paramount importance.

“With us having a named leave policy and a live conversation in our company about what that means and resources for people, whether they sit next to the person or are in the same team as the person or a the leader of the person, to be able to rally around and provide support we think is critical.”

However, Paroz was questioned about the “extremely low” number of people availing of their family violence leave, 22 employees since January in a workforce of more than 30,000.

“We feel confident that our policy has been well publicised and understood internally… we want it to be extremely well known that it’s there,” she responded.

“Sometimes just people just need the confidence and need to see that other people have taken that step and are availing of that leave and that will give them confidence in their own circumstances over time, and I think that it is time.”

Roderick said that corporate engagement has the power to break down the stigma surrounding family violence.

“One of the greatest problems or barriers or stumbling blocks around this whole issue is silence, and shame,” he said.

“If we give voice and visibility not only to the issue but also to the stories of the people who are experiencing it, then you actually find that you’re more able to tackle something that’s quite an evasive problem.

“If you’re a place where people come to work and you’re interested in people having a positive experience at your work, feeling secure in their employment, being able to contribute their best talent to deliver outcomes for your organisation, then [there is a place for corporate involvement].

“If you start with the premise that this is a workplace issue then workplaces need to be interested in it, because they’re interested in their people.”

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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