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Our workplaces are so well-placed to provide timely and significant support to victim-survivors of domestic, family and sexualised violence. But we need to develop our understanding and readiness to respond in ways that uphold dignity and build on safety. After all, it may be the first, only or last time a victim-survivor of domestic, family and sexualised violence reaches out. Every response matters and there is no one preference or path for support. Every responder, community and industry matters. In this episode, Trina shares insights, informed by lived experience, and provides practical resources to help you and your organisation to respond more effectively.

Have you ever been unsure how to assist an employee who is suffering family and domestic violence at home? In this episode we look at practical tips your workplace can implement to assist victim-survivors of family, domestic and sexualised violence. If people ask for help, it might be the first or only time they reach out, so every response matters. This is where HR can get uncomfortable, but I’m here to tell you that it is our business to respond appropriately, provide resources and change lives.

What are some of the measures your workplace has implemented to assist people with family violence? I’d love you to share over on LinkedIn

Content warning: This episode mentions family domestic and sexualised violence and suicide. Please reach out to any of the resources below if this episode raises any issues for you.

In this episode we cover:

  • We all have a critical role in responding to FDV, including our organisations 
  • Challenging perceived boundaries between work and home
  • Leading with humanity over compliance
  • The financial and emotional cost of violence
  • 1 in 6 women has experienced violence from a domestic partner
  • The different types of abuse
  • Developing understanding and readiness to respond to queries
  • Being at work can be the safest place for some people
  • We don’t know better than the person living the experience
  • Putting assumptions aside
  • Always believing people and trusting them to know what they need
  • Sharing resources so people are clear on what help can be provided
  • Organisational culture plays a massive role in people reaching out
  • Practical tips for helping people suffering from violence and abuse
  • Judgement and stigma in this space
  • Being prepared to respond with external resources, if your workplace can’t
  • Responding meaningfully if you have the right tools
  • Your response can save lives
  • Providing information for perpetrators
  • Silence on FDV is deafening.

Resources and links mentioned in this episode:

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This episode is going to explore some pretty heavy stuff and as such it comes with a content warning for those who might find discussions about FDV and suicide to be confronting and triggering. But we don’t shy away from the tough chats here at Reimagine HR and our organisations have a critical role as RESPONDERS to what is a national health and welfare issue. Family and domestic violence (FDV) has lifelong impacts for victim-survivors and perpetrators. They might be your employees. They are also your customers. So what do you need to know and how can we level up in our response? 

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By definition, Family Domestic Violence (FDV) is abuse occurring within a family or domestic setting. So, traditionally, employers have held the view that “if it didn’t happen in the workplace then it’s not a work issue.” 

We can’t get involved in everything Trina, otherwise where will it end?

I think COVID-19 and remote and hybrid work has been challenging a lot our perceived boundaries between work and life and to be honest, most conversations have come from a place of compliance, not compassion. This is a human issue. We hire humans, we work with humans and we serve humans. If we led with humanity over compliance the world would be a better place just quietly.

I don’t know at what point being a good human, or caring about humanity, became part of the ‘warm fuzzy’ remit that HR somehow gets carriage of.

We should care, because it affects millions, leading to severe physical, emotional, and social consequences. And it costs loads.

Depending on your sources violence against women and their children will cost the Australian economy an estimated $14-16 billion a year.  Billion! 

It’s the human costs that will never be truly realised though right.  

The costs to your people.

If you’re a victim-survivor, your personal cost. 

It’s a debt you never asked for, and I am sorry for your pain

I want better support to be available for you, and for others.

Hence this podcast.

Family and domestic violence (FDV) in Australia affects a large portion of the population. with over 2.7 million women, or approximately 27%, have experienced FDV since the age of 15​ (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare)​. Mission Australia says, about one in six women and one in sixteen men have experienced violence from an intimate partner​. The impact is broader, it is a major cause of homelessness, and children deeply affected.

The statistics highlight the urgent need for effective support systems and intervention strategies to protect and assist victim-survivors of FDV.

For some of you, your organisation might work in this space providing invaluable support services to victim-survivors. Kudos to you, and your organisation in striving for change. 

For others, working in typically unrelated industries, we don’t always see the connection, what support might look like, and why it matters.

When you are sitting in your next team meeting, think about the stats, as a dozen of you sit in another meeting or share a coffee, two of your colleagues might be going through one of the toughest times of their life.

And you would never know.

Domestic violence encompasses various forms of abuse, including physical (hitting, slapping), emotional (manipulation, intimidation), financial (controlling finances, restricting access to money), sexual (rape, forced sexual acts), and social abuse (isolation from friends and family). Recognizing these can aid in supporting victim-survivors effectively.

Even as someone who is somewhat informed about this topic, the learning I have gleaned since joining the Board of the Centre for Women’s Economic Safety is humbling.  One of the most valuable and unique aspect of what founder Rebecca Glenn has done through CWES is around the Lived Experience Advisory Panel. Everything they do is informed by the voices of victim-survivors. 

I am not a victim-survivor and got challenged about that recently when I made some vocal comments about us needing to do more to address FDV in Australia. If not me, who? It is not for victims to fix the problem, that is on ALL of us. It’s allyship in action and that is what this episode is about. 

Insight Exchange have pulled together some amazing resources in this space that can help and I’ll provide links to everything mentioned in this episode. 

In their ‘Guide to uplifting WORKPLACE RESPONSES to domestic, family and sexualised violence’ they call out the fact that ‘there is no such place as referral island’

Responses are more than referrals.

Your EAP card isn’t going to cut it on this one team.

Our workplaces are so well placed to provide timely and significant support to victim-survivors of domestic, family and sexualised violence. But we need to develop our understanding and readiness to respond in ways that uphold dignity and build on safety.

After all, it may be the first, only or last time a victim-survivor of domestic, family and sexualised violence reaches out. Every response matters and there is no one preference or path for support. Every responder, community and industry matters. 

Panic stations.  What the hell are we meant to do?

I don’t know what to say? I don’t want to get involved.  It’s none of my business.

Workplace Responses [to Employees, Contractors, Volunteers] are important for many possible reasons including their sense of self, social connections and safety. Importantly, having an income supports economic safety, and keeps more options on the table for victims considering their future. Often, being at work can be the safest place to be. Let’s be honest most of us can’t wait to get the hell out of there!

In 2020 Insight Exchange released an Insights Paper: ‘Experiences and perceptions of workplace responses to domestic and family violence’ and spoiler alert, we haven’t been nailing it.

When victim-survivors of domestic and family violence were asked what they’d most like us to influence about workplace responses, respondents’ top three wishes were for: 

  1. People in the workplace to be compassionate and nonjudgmental – why doesn’t she just leave? 
  2. Workplaces to provide more, or better, tangible support – here’s a card for our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) you have 6 sessions and 
  3. Improved understanding and awareness of domestic and family violence.

The other thing that came through was how Communication and safety are inextricably linked.

Let’s break it down and see what workplaces can do differently.

Let’s look at “People in the workplace being compassionate and nonjudgmental”. Actions and inactions assumed to be ‘helpful’ can actually be unhelpful and harmful. We must listen to victim-survivors and follow their lead. We don’t know better than the person living the experience.

In the workplace a victim-survivor will be looking to see:

  • what you think they (or other victim-survivors) might need 
  • whether supports can be accessed via different policies that don’t require identifying or talking about violence and abuse. 
  • that you believe them without requiring the humiliation and danger of providing documented evidence 
  • if you trust them to know which things they need most, and next 
  • what you think of them having made a request for support 
  • whether you are open to them asking for more supports later 
  • whether more is expected of them because workplace resources have been used to support them 
  • if their request for support will be used against them
  • if they will be judged and/or talked about by others 
  • how many people will find out and how quickly 
  • whether you or others will limit their career options now that you know more about them 
  • how this information will be stored in the workplace and what this means next…

From a HR perspective, there is a LOT of insight here that we can use to review and reflect on our people practices and how we can create safer and more helpful support.  The key message was to take people seriously and to FOLLOW THEIR LEAD.

Flip the insights around:

  • If a victim-survivor is looking to see that you believe them without requiring the humiliation and danger of providing documented evidence; ask yourself
  • Are we insisting on documented evidence that might humiliate our employee or put them in danger?
  • If a victim-survivor is wondering what you will think of them asking for help; ask yourself
  • How can we proactively share information and resources so that our stance on FDV is clear and that we actively want our employees to seek help (and tell them how). Don’t leave them wondering.

We can enhance support for victim-survivors and actively removing hurdles.  ACTIVELY.

The lack of understanding, Silence and silencing, Judgement, Stigma, Gossip, Unclear process, Evidence burdens

Especially evidence. Asking for evidence of FDV is right up there with asking for a death certificate for someone to take bereavement leave. Like, don’t be an a$$hole. 

Instead of us asking “why do you need this?”, we can instead ask “what do you need?”

Organisational culture plays a massive part in this for me

Perpetrators and victim-survivors of violence and abuse are alert to workplace culture right. What they observe and/or experience from colleagues and managers, informs their decisions. 

For victim-survivors, widening support options and increasing choice and control are super important. The value of these options and choices is contingent on workplace safety (practically and culturally) to access and use the supports without adverse consequences. 

For perpetrators, working in a culture of silence about violence and abuse, or a culture of silencing victim-survivors, they can continue their use of control, abuse and violence undetected and without consequence. Perpetrators can thrive in avoidant cultures because there isn’t a courageous culture to call them out and take action.

Responding to perpetrators is a whole other story and Our Watch has created some Practical Guidelines on Workplace responses to staff who perpetrate violence against women

And this is where organisations/employers start to get twitchy right.

They initially lean in and want to be better and be supportive and do some good stuff.

And then the layers of the FDV onion start peeling back and we keep seeing more and more that needs to be addressed. I get it. We like nice and neat initiatives that we can design, develop and implement, and then go about our day.

But without hearing from those with lived experience, and being considered in our responses, we can get it wrong. And we can put people at risk.

I have a client that went all gung ho in addressing a perpetrator’s behaviour under the label of a “zero tolerance approach” and as a way of “setting an example”, which never ends well in my experience. I would generally avoid adopting a zero-tolerance approach against perpetrators, except where the behaviour would result in summary dismissal in normal circumstances (e.g. breaching workplace policies or code of conduct). It is critical that we consider the position of victims/survivors before an employee is terminated for perpetrating violence against women, because the outcome may have a detrimental impact on her safety and wellbeing.

The second thing survivors told Insight Exchange was for “Workplaces providing more, or better, tangible support”. Workplaces need to be flexible and supportive in their response because again, no two experiences are the same. And what victim-survivors need today may be different tomorrow. There are many support OPTIONS with options being the key here. Items on the options menu could include things like:

  • Changing their work location
  • Access to pre-paid or work-funded mobile
  • No records about DFSV being kept without their express permission
  • Alternative mail or email or phone number
  • Access to secure parking
  • Secure/restricted access to staff areas
  • Flexible lunch breaks
  • Change / vary their work start or finish times
  • Change their work hours
  • Adjusted / alternative duties
  • A safe/private place to make calls
  • A separate work computer to look up information (especially if the work laptop goes home with them at the end of the day.
  • A place to securely store documents
  • Safe lockers for storage of personal items, I mean we’ve created amazing storage for the lycra brigade in our carparks.
  • Access to emergency funding 
  • Access to pay in advance
  • Food vouchers
  • Utility vouchers
  • Separating their pay
  • Resources toward career management/progression
  • Colleagues they can trust and talk to
  • After-school space at your workplace for children (eg to safely complete homework)
  • Information on financial hardship supports 
  • Domestic and family violence leave (10 days for perm part-time or casual)
  • Information about the Crisis Payment for extreme circumstances family and domestic violence.
  • Access to free (violence-informed) counselling
  • Information about DFSV support options
  • Legal assistance
  • Information about support options for my children
  • Employee assistance program

It’s at this point, Executives are mentally calculating costs and people leaders get overwhelmed. We can’t fund all that. We can’t do all that. Is that even our responsibility?

Which is why we need to educate and support our leaders who will be doing the responding. I know that members of the CEOs for Gender Equity had their eyes opened recently during a CEO Summit focused on FDV. And many of those members are now leading the way with options being available like those I have mentioned. 

Is your workplace ready if you’re asked for something listed in Insight Exchange’s support menu?

Would the answer be “Yes” or “How can we find a way”

Or is it “No we don’t have that sorry, have you tried Centrelink?” 

I know the support options offered by each workplace will be dependent on the type, systems and size of the business.

But where a resource can’t be directly provided by your workplace – you need to be prepared to assist with access to the support needed through other providers or strategies.

What we know for sure is that we need to widen support options and increase the choice and control that victim-survivors have over their own situations.  Follow Their Lead.

The third theme that victim-survivors shared was the need for “improved understanding and awareness of domestic and family violence”

What we understand about domestic, family and sexualised violence informs how we respond; it influences how we design products, services and systems. It influences how we communicate about those products, services and systems.

Every response matters, and therefore the understanding of different industries matters. We have access to free (donated) introductory modules designed to build understanding of and responses to domestic, family and sexualised violence. I’ll share links in the podcast notes, the key modules contain lived experience insights, data, concepts, animations and an introduction to resources you can take forward (at no cost) into your industry. 

Did I mention they are all free?

Insight Exchange’s introductory module for any responder to FDV is a great place to start. But there are also industry-specific modules (hotels, security, clubs etc), and educational resources on ‘Understanding and responding to workplace sexual harassment’ and ‘Introduction to economic abuse’ which was co-produced with the Centre for Women’s Economic Safety. Financial and economic abuse as a form of coercive control and a form of domestic and family violence is only now getting the attention it deserves. It is also one of the most common type of abuse that could be happening from, and in, your workplaces. 

When we know more, we can respond in a more informed way. Learning about FDV, understanding what it looks like, and what a good response looks like will give you the tools to respond meaningfully. And in doing so you could change, even save, a life.

In my early career, I worked in an organisation that had a series of attempted and successful suicides. It was confronting, traumatic and people felt helpless. I felt helpless. I was the head of HR and that period was very difficult. One of the things that came out of that was I went through suicide prevention training. Our organisation was proactively communicating with people about mental health and suicide prevention long before R U Okay Day? Or mental first aid were core initiatives in our workplaces. That education and knowledge have come with me for twenty years since and after launching this podcast I have had 3 people reach out to me privately to say that the way I responded to them when they were having suicidal ideation saved their life. I had no idea. And I’m still processing it to be honest.

That’s the power of giving people the information, tools and guidance so they are equipped to respond well.

We know that communication and safety are inextricably linked. In a HR context, we know that for sure! Proactive communication can build on safety. 

  • Victim-survivors of domestic, family and sexualised violence are everywhere.
  • We know this from the stats I shared earlier.
  • Many don’t tell anyone
  • Those who do – prefer to talk to family & friends.
  • In workplaces – employees are also the family and friends someone might talk to.

With close to 50% of victim-survivors not telling anyone about the violence and abuse they are subjected to, their silence doesn’t mean they don’t want or need access to information and options. So your proactive communication really matters, and we may never know the full and enduring value of making information and reflection material available to readers. Just like I didn’t know the value of the information I was sharing with my colleagues who were wrestling with the black dog. 

If organisations could consider one practical thing to better support victim-survivors of domestic, family and sexualised violence it would be to have a look at your good ole intranet. I will share a link to Insight Exchange’s Workplace Intranet Content Guide. It’s all there for you, ready to go people! It is a great starting point to then customise, refine and adapt down the track. 

Not everyone is the same, so different readers will need different things.

  • Info for anyone – any employee, anywhere, in any industry
  • All employees – to know why your organisation, how you fit into the FDV ecosystem and your stance, relevant policies, support FAQs and CEO and Leadership Message(s). 
  • Perpetrators – who might be thinking about their controlling, abusive or violent behaviours and options
  • Victims – who are thinking about their relationships and experiences of violence and abuse and their options; and
  • Responders – people thinking about what they might say or do in responses to colleagues, friends, families and contacts. FYI the last person that spoke to me about their FDV experience was sitting next to me on the bus.

To organisations who want to be silent on FDV, I would put it to you that your silence is bloody LOUD.  It’s deafening your existing employees. 

There is no fence to sit on with this. 

There is no neutral standpoint and to those who are boldly providing vocal and proactive support, the talent pool sees you.  They want to work with you. And those who are not stepping up to focus on the ‘human’ aspect of their HR, well, they will be left behind. It’s attraction / retention 101.

To those listening, no matter how you’re coming into this conversation, what you do next is important. 

Responses to victim-survivors of violence and abuse can be transformative, helpful, unhelpful, harmful or complicit. We are all responders. My question is, what kind of responder do you want to be?

By creating supportive workplaces, we can fundamentally transform the lives of victim-survivors of family, domestic, and sexualized violence for the better.

Imagine that…

 

Before you go…

I will be including a significant number of resources in the podcast notes for this episode to help workplaces improve their responses to domestic, family and sexualised violence.  There will also be resources and references that can help you if you are experience abuse. Please head to the Resource Hub on our website at reimaginehr.com.au to access the show notes and resources from this episode.

If you are a Executive or HR leader wanting to talk about how your organisation can level up in your response to domestic, family and sexualised violence then I am here to help, you can contact me via LinkedIn or via our website contact form at reimaginehr.com.au.

1800RESPECT is the national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling, information and support service. If you or someone you know is experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, domestic, family or sexual violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

Resources and links mentioned in this episode:

 

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