Resisting the beige
14 November 2022 at 3:22 pm
Felicity Green examines how a one-size-fits-all strategy can end up being the wrong fit.
The times we are in call for great strategies, ones that move beyond insular organisational perspectives. We need intra and cross-sector planning to help us achieve the transformational shifts needed for a safer, fairer and more sustainable world. In pursuit of these collective strategies, however, there is danger if we try to bring absolutely everything under one umbrella.
In this Strategy Spotlight, based on an interview with Respect Victoria’s CEO Emily Maguire, we examine the risk of becoming paralysed by trying to accommodate all situations under one banner. In this case specifically, the threat of losing the gendered analysis in the prevention of violence against women and their children.
Maguire started work in the public sector straight out of school, dividing her attention between policy work on student wellbeing and making it big with her band. Fast forward through studies in social work, community development and an Arts degree, Maguire then worked in the early roll out of Respectful Relationships. This opened her eyes as to how a system can impact on change and the role of bureaucracy in this.
Due to the nature of prevention contracts generally operating on an annual basis, Maguire then had several different roles, gaining unique experience across the community sector, within government and with statutory organisations, before securing the CEO role at the former state-wide organisation, Domestic Violence Research Centre Victoria. And after seeing through the merger with Domestic Violence Victoria to what is now Safe and Equal, Maguire is now at the helm of Respect Victoria, a statutory body dedicated to preventing family violence and violence against women before they happen, by driving evidence-informed prevention.
Maguire and her team are, in a way, building the plane while flying, as no other jurisdiction has a single statutory body focussed on violence against women. Neither not for profit nor government, Respect Victoria has a foot in both camps, and developing collective strategies across both of these sectors requires the ability to constantly operate in ambiguity, embrace constant change and maintain a really good level of visioning, while tackling big “chunks” of the cause along the way.
Respect Victoria needs to be playing multiple critical roles for the benefit of the sector: influence, setting up infrastructure, and the backbone function of a collective impact framework. Some of that is articulated in legislation, some is a significant shift. Ultimately, Maguire wants to set up ways of working to be a trusted entity that is informative, visionary, and supports the Victorian government to implement their violence prevention framework.
Maguire acknowledges that she works in a field that is “chomping at the bit” to take the next step in the journey. Prevention has been around for 15 years and now needs to be delivered to scale. Over those 15 years a lot has been learned, and one of those important insights is the recognition that we are not one homogenous person. In efforts to bring theory in action and be more inclusive, to truly reflect the diversity and complexity of experiences and needs, an inadvertent externality is the loss of a gendered analysis on this issue.
Maguire argues that we need to be able to have conversations about the ways in which all forms of against women – and many other forms of family violence – are gendered, without this resulting in a perception that a gendered analysis means that other forms of violence which are not as heavily driven by gender aren’t important to address. Gender is relevant always, and we all carry gender with us and we can never ignore it. Yet this frame can be perceived as exclusionary. It’s not, and when talking about men’s violence against women, gender is the primary factor and it’s unhelpful to mute this message when the evidence shows this to be the case.
So what’s the solution and what can other leaders in the social sector learn from this example and apply to other sectors? Maguire encourages three actions:
- Have the courageous conversations and don’t be afraid to segment if it means you can better address the underlying cause. Avoid pursuing a “one size fits all” strategy for an issue that’s as complex as family violence and violence against women. Look to sectors such as health, for example, which doesn’t have the same strategy for GP retention and surgeon retention.
- Go deep and wide, even if all the work isn’t visible to everyone. Not all impact is going to be applicable to everyone. While broad policy work can create great outcomes at a broad population level, it’s also important to target specific areas of need as well. To this end, Respect Victoria also runs direct campaigns on the relationship between gender and violence, using this evidence for scale, even if this work is only visible to a small part of the community.
- Look at the evidence to determine where the sector’s impact isn’t felt: With the introduction of the Gender Equality Act, Victoria is making great progress in formal settings such as workplaces in terms of public gender equality indicators. There is a stark difference, however, between the progress in public spheres and that of private settings. Maguire urges us to start having conversations about how to shift things in people’s homes. This is an example of honest reflection, and other sectors can follow suit by challenging their efforts to not just continue to focus solely on areas where there is traction, but also to determine who and how to tackle areas that need attention.
Working together on collective strategies is crucial. In our efforts to bring together multiple issues, voices and perspectives, we must be wary of losing analysis on key drivers that still exist and need to be addressed.