Fighting for financial independence
15 March 2022 at 8:05 am
Rebecca Glenn is the founder of the Centre for Women’s Economic Safety (CWES), an organisation working to raise awareness of economic abuse and improve responses to it. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
Despite little being known about economic abuse, studies show that more than 70 per cent of people who have experienced other forms of intimate partner violence, have experienced one or more indicators of economic abuse.
It is defined as behaviour used to control a partner by restricting or exploiting their economic resources, such as money, food, transport, and housing, in a way that threatens their economic security and potential for self-sufficiency. This often under-detected form of domestic violence is usually part of a broader pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour.
Rebecca Glenn – who for many years has worked in the financial services and financial literacy space – founded the CWES to not only raise awareness of what financial abuse looks like, but to teach individuals how to make financial decisions that empower them.
Having previously worked as the head of Financial Literacy Australia and in a role developing Commonwealth Bank Australia’s employee financial wellbeing program, she was able to identify gaps in knowledge around financial abuse and how to stop it from happening.
Her hope is that CWES will be able to advocate to see structural changes that support women’s economic safety.
In 2019, Glenn was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to investigate service responses to women experiencing or escaping economic abuse in the UK, USA and Canada. She was also named as one of this year’s AMP Tomorrow Makers.
In this week’s Changemaker, she discusses her journey to founding a charity, the things that inspire her leadership, and how starting CWES has changed how she sees the world.
How did you get into the job you’re in now?
I founded the CWES because I was shocked to realise we had this massive problem with economic abuse in the context of domestic and family violence that was mostly being ignored.
I had already been working in financial literacy, as the head of Financial Literacy Australia, and financial wellbeing, as the executive manager of Commonwealth Bank, when I realised this. And I could see that most initiatives to improve people’s financial situation assume people are free to make different and better decisions, which is not the case for someone experiencing domestic and family violence. While there’s increasing recognition of the structural economic disadvantage women face, we don’t talk as much about the way abusers capitalise on these structural disadvantages to further undermine women’s autonomy, safety and potential.
So it was a classic case of me thinking, “someone should do something about this!” and then realising “I’m someone”. More importantly, I was already working in adjacent territory and had the relevant skills and networks to take it on.
What does an average day look like for you in your current role?
I’m not sure I’ve had an “average day” yet. I founded and self-funded the centre just as COVID-19 took hold in Australia in March 2020. At that time, I was working full-time with Insight Exchange; a social change initiative of Domestic Violence Service Management. In 2021, I went part-time to create more time to spend on CWES. In 2022, thanks to funding from the support of the AMP Foundation, I am now able to commit 100 per cent of my time to CWES.
On any given day, I could be writing content for the Economic Safety website, running a workshop or giving a presentation about economic abuse, meeting with potential
funders or volunteers, assessing developments with Margie (the director of our Money Clinics), working on a submission to government, doing media interviews, meeting women with lived experiences of abuse, or participating in working groups or committees related to women’s economic safety.
How do you manage the challenges of your work and stay grounded?
One of the biggest challenges of the work is choosing where to focus our energy and resources when there is so much that needs to change. I am guided by an excellent group of peers with lived experience insight, professional knowledge, skill and wisdom who I engage with to help navigate and prioritise our work.
People often ask how I cope with hearing such awful stories all the time, but I find it energising. I’m so impressed by the resourcefulness of survivors, and the anger I feel at the injustice they’ve experienced fuels me; it’s very motivating. But I also make time to decompress by taking bush walks with my husband, seeing friends and hanging out with my dog.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to pursue a career in the for-purpose space?
Do something you’re passionate about. But first, I would encourage people to deeply contemplate what drives them and what skills, knowledge or talents they have to offer that “purpose”. It may be that you could better serve that purpose in the for-profit space or in government. We can’t improve things without every sector understanding they have a role to play, whether your purpose is to improve climate, safety, justice, economic or health outcomes.
I’m concerned that some of the underlying assumptions about “vulnerable people” in the social sector/for-purpose space are pretty uninformed and can end up making things worse for the people they aim to support. If someone is keen to make a difference for people who
have been made vulnerable by the system, a good first step is to build your understanding of their experiences, and of the intersecting and overlapping ways the system has let them down and then support initiatives that will undo that.
How has working in the for-purpose space changed the way you see the world?
I used to believe that individuals were mostly responsible for the circumstances they found themselves in, now I see individual experiences as more complex. The way in which individuals are treated by people, organisations, services, and systems matters way more than I had previously thought. The role of an individual’s dignity in their decision-making is way more important than I had previously thought. And a person’s context (their identity, values, culture, relationships, location, safety, income, wealth) dictates their opportunities to a greater degree than I previously thought.
What this means is I am more interested in breaking down barriers than trying to encourage people to rise above them or lift people over them. I am interested in solutions led by lived experience; solutions that work to uphold dignity, create opportunities, and meet people where they are at.