Why businesses can lead on the domestic violence crisis

Opinion pieces
Topics Gender

Lisa Annese, CEO, DCA

March 4 Justice marked a turning point in the national conversation about sexual harassment and gendered violence in the workplace. As I participated in the marches, I was painfully aware of yet another side of the issue - the gendered violence that happens in Australian homes. 

This too is a critical issues for workplaces, if not so directly obvious.

If an employee is living with or using this type of violence, they will be experiencing significant personal impacts on many aspects of their lives. There are also impacts on the workplace itself – for example, through absenteeism, presenteeism and the costs of replacement hiring. 

Yet we know from our conversations with Australian businesses that there is still a reluctance on the part of some organisations to address an issue that, for so long, was seen as ‘private’. As something that only had impacts in the home.  

DCA’s new myth-buster – produced in conjunction with Our Watch and timed to coincide with International Women’s Day and March 4 Justice – is a bridge over the gap between what these organisations think domestic and family violence is, and how it actually impacts them, individuals and wider society.

The report puts paid to many of the misconceptions that surround domestic and family violence, which was rife before the pandemic, but was also horribly exacerbated by it.

To be honest, there are so many myths surrounding domestic and family violence, it’s hard to know where to start, but let’s try:

We’d know if we had perpetrators here. (No, you wouldn’t. Not necessarily).

It’s none of our business (It’s everybody’s business).

Companies aren’t therapists (No. But they can make a difference).

These are just some of the most common misconceptions. But perhaps the single most important message to takeaway and share on International Women’s Day is this: domestic and family violence is not just a ‘domestic issue’ or an ‘individual family problem’.

The underlying conditions that drive this type of violence are associated with gender inequality, and our ideas about gender roles in modern Australia. The underlying causes are also structural, embedded in our politics, institutions and organisations – including workplaces. 

There is a strong link between what happens outside work and in the workplace. And as COVID-19 continues to blur the line between home and office, this has never been truer.

While I’m always reluctant to talk about women’s lives in bottom line terms, for those struggling to see the bigger economic picture, it’s useful to break this rule and reveal that, at last count, domestic and family violence cost Australian businesses approximately $1.9 billion a year.

This is because perpetrators of domestic violence can make it difficult for victims to attend work. The strain of domestic violence may also impact an employee’s performance, productivity and wellbeing. Colleagues and managers may also be targeted, posing both workplace safety and liability issues.

These are confronting realities, but businesses must confront them. Research shows doing so has hugely positive impacts for employees and business alike.

And to be clear, no one is asking Australia’s managers to take on the role of therapists, or put themselves in danger.

They should, however, understand what can be done within the context of their organisation, and take the following steps:

  • Start by addressing domestic and family violence as part of workplace policies; bullying and harassment policies, and/or gender equality initiatives and strategies. Our Watch has a great set of resources available on the Workplace Support Website.
  • Understand that the key driver of domestic and family violence is gender inequality, and identify ways to address this in the workplace. This includes challenging sexist gender norms, structures and practices, ensuring that disrespect and hostility towards women are not tolerated, and embedding and normalising gender equality across the workplace.
  • Set out a clear process for how staff can recognise and respond to disclosures of violence as part of clearly documented and communicated workplace policies on domestic and family violence.
  • Keep an up-to-date list of relevant referral services, and regularly communicate referral pathways and support services available to all staff.
  • Make sure your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) has domestic and family violence expertise.

Implementing these processes will be important and helpful for victims.

It will also ensure workplaces play their part in contributing to broader societal efforts to prevent domestic and family violence from happening in the first place.

Indeed, many already do. There has been a huge shift in the community conversation about domestic and family violence in recent times.  Violence against women is recognised as the serious and highly prevalent crime that it is, and most people understand that addressing this crisis is the entire community’s responsibility.

But let’s not pretend we’re there yet. Instead, let’s use the unprecendented events surrounding this International Women’s Day as a reminder that we all need to keep going in the right direction.


Myth Busting Domestic and Family Violence

Our Watch


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