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​Workplaces can help prevent violence against women: new report

February 11 2016 By Joanna Cooney, Media Officer

Promoting gender equality and respect in workplaces is an important catalyst for preventing violence against women in broader society, according to a new report from RMIT University and Our Watch.

Women’s experiences of violence, even if occurring in the home, impact the workplace in a range of ways, including lost productivity and high staff turnover, according to the Promising Practices in Workplace and Organisational Approaches for the Prevention of Violence Against Women report.

Workplaces have great influence over people’s lives and communities, and present the opportunity to help drive the cultural change needed to prevent violence against women and their children, explained Our Watch Chief Executive Officer Mary Barry.

“The sad fact is that one in four Australian women has experienced violence from a current or former partner, and we know most of these women – and their perpetrators – are in the paid workforce.”  

“It has become clear the only way this violence can be sustainably reduced in Australia is by increasing gender equity and respect in all aspects of everyday life  – including workplaces, where most adults spend a large portion of their time,” said Ms Barry.

“Many larger organisations have established response and support systems for women affected by violence, and interventions for perpetrators. However, workplaces also have the opportunity to use their influence to promote a culture that stops this violence happening in the first place.

“This means creating workplace cultures that have zero tolerance of sexism, reject discriminatory attitudes and behaviours, and support increasing the number of female leaders. Boards, CEOs and senior leadership must lead the work in order to achieve whole-of-organisation change,” she said.

Policies and programs that respond to incidents of violence are less likely to be effective if a workplace’s informal culture accepts gender inequity, and condones sexist or discriminatory behaviour, said RMIT Justice and Legal lecturer Dr Anastasia Powell, who led the report with RMIT anthropologist Dr Larissa Sandy.

“These informal cultures and social norms are more influential in promoting behavioural and attitudinal change, but they are also the most challenging to address and often deter women from reporting any discriminatory behaviours – a clear example can be seen in responses to sexual harassment,” Dr Powell said.

“One in three women have experienced sexual harassment at work, but only one in five of these women make a formal report, despite employers being legally obligated to provide a safe working environment.

“And when women do report an incident of harassment, one third face consequences such as being relocated, demoted, ostracised by colleagues, and being labelled a ‘troublemaker’,” she said.

“Addressing informal cultures might involve challenging a colleagues’ sexist remarks or jokes that normalise violence against women; or confronting workplace or other organisational practices that devalue, exclude or marginalise women.” 

While violence against women represents a substantial cost to the community generally, there is also a business case for involvement in preventing and responding to violence against women, Dr Powell said.

“By implementing programs and policies to prevent violence against women, workplaces stand to benefit from increased productivity and decreased costs in relation to leave and staff replacement.

“There are also indirect benefits, such as being identified as an employer of choice that shows social responsibility and provides community leadership,” she said.

Our Watch is currently leading the $900,000 Victorian Workplace Equality and Respect program, funded by the Victorian Government.

Through the project, Our Watch will complement existing initiatives to produce an evidence-based model and standards that will be made available for all Australian workplaces. Workplaces will be able to use this information to guide their own actions to promote gender equity and prevent violence against women in the community.

Media contact:

Joanna Cooney, Media and Communications Officer, Our Watch: Joanna.Cooney@ourwatch.org.au or call 03 86929500.

*If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline:
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.”

Access guides for reporting about violence against women and their children.

About Our Watch 

Our Watch’s (previously the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children) purpose is to raise awareness and engage the community in action to prevent violence against women and their children.
Our Watch was conceived of and brought into existence in 2013 by the Commonwealth of Australia and the State of Victoria. The Northern Territory, South Australian, Tasmanian governments have also since become members of the organisation.
Our Watch’s work derives from the government’s commitment to the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022 and gives expression to many of the activities in the Second Action Plan 2013–2016 – Moving Ahead.