Empowering workplaces to address Family and Domestic Violence

When DCA planned last week’s Case Study Conversation on Family and Domestic Violence, we didn’t know that it would be happening against the backdrop of an increasingly urgent national conversation on gender-based violence and intimate partner violence. These issues are an ongoing national tragedy. However, given recent events including the attack at Bondi Junction, and constant news stories about yet another woman killed by an intimate partner or ex-partner, we are hearing it discussed beyond just the echo chambers of people involved in change work. We are hearing it on the radio, seeing it on TV, reading about it online, and we are engaging in conversations about it at kitchen tables and workplaces across the country.

National Cabinet was convened last week, and a range of announcements came out of that. Katy Gallagher, the Minister for Women released the national gender equality strategy recently, which also focuses on responses to gender-based violence including family and domestic violence and abuse. And we have seen workplaces respond to the new positive duty laws.

Just last week, I attended a roundtable with the E-Safety Commissioner and ANROWS, where they launched new research on the perpetration of workplace technology-facilitated sexual harassment. This event left me with a harrowing takeaway – things seem to be getting worse. Women are now being targeted in ways inconceivable to previous generations of women. But where is the mainstream conversation about prevention, about sexist attitudes and the dehumanising of women?

Against this backdrop, I was delighted to speak with Ryan Burke, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at CommBank at DCA’s Case Study Conversation on Family and Domestic Violence. CommBank has been incorporating family and domestic violence into its workplace policies for a long time and is leading the way.

Workplaces are part of our community. Individuals have lives outside of work, and events outside of work can affect their participation in the workforce. Family and domestic violence is absolutely a workplace issue.

Here are DCA’s key takeaways from the discussion with Ryan, and a few insights from DCA’s own research.

Family and domestic violence is a workplace issue

Workplaces have a significant influence on people’s lives. They have the power to educate, change mindsets, and provide support.

We know that people in our workplaces are experiencing family and domestic violence. According to the ABS, two-thirds of women experiencing violence from a current partner are employed. About one in five Australian workers experiencing domestic and family violence report the violence continuing into the workplace. On top of this, family and domestic violence can impact productivity, increase staff turnover rates and influence workplace culture.

Workplaces can contribute to the prevention of domestic and family violence by raising awareness, challenging sexist attitudes and behaviour, reinforcing gender equality, modelling respectful relationships, as well as providing a safe space from violence, and a crucial source of social and economic support to people experiencing violence.

For more information on family and domestic violence’s connection to the workplace, see DCA’s resource page on family and domestic violence.

Change starts with good leadership, but requires a holistic approach

Many perceive family and domestic violence as a private and personal issue, hindering disclosure to workplaces. Educating employees about available support fosters a safe environment for disclosure.

Begin by training managers on workplace roles and encouraging senior leaders to advocate. Equally, all staff must be trained to listen, support, and refer appropriately, whether that is to their manager, an external EAP or the HR team.

Utilise DCA’s Change at Work guide for an effective approach.

Providing the right support requires centring lived experiences

Centring lived experiences is paramount. By prioritising the voices of those marginalised, we ensure a holistic understanding of their needs and provide appropriate support. Listening to victim-survivors of family and domestic violence is crucial in policy and education design. Connect with community organisations, academics, and diversity networks for guidance.

While family and domestic violence is a gendered issue and is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women and gender-diverse people, it’s important to remember men and LGBTIQ+ people experience family and domestic violence too.

According to the LGBTQ Domestic Violence Awareness Foundation, 60% of LGBTIQ+ people have experienced family, domestic and intimate partner violence. LGBTIQ+ people are also more likely to face barriers to support services that meet their specific needs, such as safe housing services for male victims, support for female perpetrators, and transgender and intersex inclusive services.

See DCA’s Centring Marginalised Voices at Work resource for more information on centring lived experience.

Educating perpetrators must be part of the journey

If one in three Australian women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a man and one in four has experienced emotional abuse by a partner, it’s likely that perpetrators of such violence are employed in our workplaces. The safety of those impacted must be central to your organisation’s response to employees who are perpetrators of family and domestic violence. While firing perpetrators may seem like the best approach, research shows it can cause more harm to the victim-survivor. Workplaces must hold perpetrators accountable and consider their capacity for rehabilitation.

See The Champions of Change Coalition guide to Employees Who Use Domestic & Family Violence: A Workplace Response

It starts with respect

All violence stems from disrespect, making it crucial for organisations to foster cultures of respect within workplaces and broader communities. Offering training on respectful behaviour is key to preventing family and domestic violence, with management modelling and speaking out against disrespectful behaviour being equally essential. These conversations on respect can also extend to addressing issues like sexual harassment, bullying, and discrimination.

Learn more about fostering workplace respect with Our Watch’s Workplace Equality and Respect: A how-to guide.

You can watch a recording of DCA’s Case Study Conversation on Family and Domestic Violence via the event page.

Useful resources and organisations:

Helplines available for family and domestic violence support: