More small businesses need to start addressing not only sexual harassment in the workplace, but domestic violence among its employees, the country’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner has warned.
Speaking at the NAB Small Business Summit in Brisbane yesterday, at which SmartCompany was in attendance, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said SMEs need to start ramping up their attempts at addressing domestic violence.
“Violence against women is a huge problem, and it will take small businesses to erase this blight from Australian society,” she said.
Broderick argued employers may not initially view warning signs of domestic violence as what they are. If someone is late for work, or does not have a uniform, “of course they’re not going to look like the model employee”.
However, she argues women who are victims of domestic violence are often threatened and in harmful situations, which causes them to be late for work, or perhaps inadvertently break workplace policies.
“This is why we need to look at initiatives like allowing flexible work hours, allowing employees to keep a locked bag at work, developing a personal safety plan, and so on.
“This can happen if an employee needs to dash home during the middle of the day, if an abusive partner is about to leave the house and leave the children alone at home.”
Broderick says too many small businesses tend to think of “work” and “home” lives as separate – but says domestic violence blurs the line between those two.
Broderick says there are 1.2 million women in Australia over the age of 15 that have experienced domestic abuse. She argues that businesses need to address this matter quickly.
“There are plenty of things business owners can do to help women in this situation,” he says. “Things such as giving information about personal safety, alongside workplace health and safety as well.
“Providing information on counselling services could also be a part of that.”
The issue of domestic violence ties into the broader discussion about violence against women in general, Broderick argues, which in turn becomes an economic argument.
“If we can improve workforce participation among women by 6%, that will at least contribute $25 billion to gross domestic product.”
“This problem isn’t getting any better. Every week I get a list of sexual harassment complaints and a fair degree of them relate to small business.”