Last month, the Sydney Morning Herald reported almost one in 10 Australian women in a relationship experienced domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, with two thirds acknowledging attacks worsened during lockdown. It’s a devastating narrative, and one that rarely makes the front pages, or the daily press conference.
During this time, calls to hotlines seeking urgent assistance also sharply rose, and in a call to arms, state and federal governments have poured money into domestic violence initiatives across the country.
In Australia, the ABS has found between 55% to 70% of women who have, or continue to experience domestic violence are in paid workforce, placing a greater responsibility on businesses to adopt family and domestic violence policies to create a safer community. At WORK180, we’ve found that 78% of endorsed employers in Australia have a domestic violence policy, compared to our UK counterparts which are at an 18.6 per cent adoption rate. What’s more, in over the last 12 months, there’s been a 16 per cent increase across employers adopting this policy, with more and more businesses recognizing the critical importance of employee protection.
Here’s a look into some of the WORK180 endorsed businesses who have been actively supporting both customers and employees on the issue of domestic violence during COVID-19.
IBM’s technology design principles to address domestic abuse
During COVID-19, where the new norm is isolation, technology can be a critical driver in bringing us together. And yet, the same technologies that can be used to safeguard survivors of violence, can also be weaponized against them. While there is no simple solution to address this, IBM has proposed five key design principles to help make technology products resistant to coercive control. These include ensuring diverse design teams to provide different perspectives around the potential risks/issues; guaranteeing privacy and choice in how privacy settings can be used; combating gaslighting through ensuring users are notified about setting changes; and only collecting/sharing necessary data. For employees in Australia/New Zealand, IBM provides 10 days paid, confidential domestic violence leave so that employees can take the time they need to access support services without reducing their annual leave balance and potentially triggering further abuse as a result.
NAB’s financial assistance during COVID-19
Around 40% of callers to NAB’s Customer Support Hub who need help, but aren’t in financial hardship, relate to domestic and family violence. For over four years, NAB has provided customers in need with grants to support the costs of escaping a violent situation. This helps to cover financial expenses such as moving home, emergency accommodation or a case worker to develop a safety plan. In March this year, NAB also provided a $140,000 grant to “Two Good Co” to help the social enterprise meet the soaring demand for meals at domestic and family violence centers.
Telstra and WESNET smartphone initiative
Having access to a phone can be a critical lifeline for survivors of family and domestic violence. In partnership with WESNET, a support organization for domestic and family violence services, Telstra has provided over 6,000 smartphones to DFV survivors with $30 credit per device, taking the total number of donated phones to 8,000. Many women supported through the initiative have never had access to a personal phone, and the technology serves not only as a critical lifeline, but also as a way to feel more connected to the outside world.
Reward Gateway’s Domestic Violence Protection Program
In May, Reward Gateway, a company dedicated to building engaged employees for more resilient organizations, introduced a Domestic Violence Protection Program to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of employees. These initiatives aim to address three critical areas of domestic violence, including extra support for survivors to report, proactive protection of staff, and financial support for legal action. The program also includes paid domestic violence leave to ensure that any employee who needs to seek medical or legal support will not need to take annual leave, as well as financial support in the form of legal aid (up to $4,500 in Australia).
QSuper partnership answers the call on domestic violence
QSuper’s long-term partnership with Queensland not-for-profit domestic violence hotline, DVConnect has helped more than 4,000 victims per year have their call for support answered. On average, DVConnect responds to one call for help to its Womensline every seven minutes. With a post-pandemic surge in demand predicted, QSuper has enhanced its support to help DVConnect upskill Queensland businesses with training to fight domestic and family violence.
QSuper CEO Michael Pennisi said QSuper’s support wasn’t just about providing funding that could help deal with more calls and potentially save more lives, but educating customers and employees about the prevalence of domestic violence and what they could do to take an active role in combatting it. Mr Pennisi commented, “more and more, it’s up to organizations to work collaboratively to help tackle domestic violence in our communities”.
Aurecon’s shared care leave
In an effort to break down gender stereotypes and inequality, Aurecon has introduced a shared care leave policy. This has opened the door for male parental leave, helping to normalize men at home and gender stereotypes of childcare. While it may not seem an obvious connection to the issue of domestic violence, breaking down gender stereotypes and role expectations for women is a major contributor to the overall domestic violence issue. Shared care provides financial incentives to support secondary carers move into a primary carer role, and Aurecon has experienced an increase in the proportion of primary carer leave taken by men from 7% in 2017, to 28% as of July 2020.
If you are someone affected by domestic violence and need support, you can call Lifeline’s crisis hotline (available 24/7) on 13 11 14, or you can text 0477 13 11 14.
If you want to know more about employers who are supporting women in the workplace to thrive, check out WORK180’s list of Endorsed Employers.