Story by: Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj
The tidal wave of activity and discussions around women in the workplace is finally breaking one of the few remaining taboos, domestic violence. The Vodafone Foundation is rolling out Bright Sky, an app providing support for victims of domestic violence and abuse working with local partners in different countries. The work of the foundation is influential, but Vodafone has taken the bold step of addressing domestic violence amongst its employees by providing paid leave amongst a raft of measures. During the numerous debates around women in leadership focus on personal circumstances is often dominated by the discussion around managing childcare or other forms of domestic care. The choice of a life partner is debated as an essential asset in the career progression for women, will they support her ambition, step up on the domestic front and provide flexibility as needed? The “Me too” campaign has made it more acceptable to call out sexual harassment in the workplace and hold leaders to account for their behavior towards female colleagues. But the darkest shadow is cast when we gingerly side-step the discussion around domestic violence. Our own biases often kick in when we consider victims of domestic violence, and we find a certain reluctance to accept women who are educated, in careers with financial independence and ambitions are likely to be victims.
Research commissioned by the Vodafone Foundation has identified the scale of the problem across a range of countries and the impact on the lives of the working population. This research focuses on the effects of domestic violence on men and women, reminding us that this is a human issue not only a gender one. However, as Serpil Timuray, CEO Europe Cluster, Vodafone Group highlights, “Domestic abuse and violence is one of the world’s most pressing and wide-spread societal issues. It disproportionately affects women, negatively impacting on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of those who face this traumatic experience.” The findings based on a survey conducted by Opinium, of just over 4,700 working adults across nine countries; UK, Germany, Ireland, Turkey, South Africa, Kenya, India, Italy, and Spain present a powerful insight by crossing boundaries between the general divisions of work and personal lives.
At least one in three women and one in six men are currently or have experienced domestic abuse.
The research shows psychological control and emotional abuse (61%) are the most common forms followed by just over half of the respondents having experienced physical violence and a quarter experiencing financial abuse.
Two-thirds of workers who have experienced abuse in their working lives felt this affected their work, 10% of respondents described having to leave their workplace impacting their own career progression. Discussing domestic violence is still one of the greatest taboos in our time, and this research highlights the extent of the issue as only a quarter of the workers told their co-workers about their experiences. 50% of those who had experienced domestic abuse felt too ashamed to discuss this at work, although when employees did share their experiences at work, 53% said that positive things happened as a consequence.
In response to these findings, Vodafone has created an HR policy specifically for victims of domestic abuse across all its markets. HR managers are undergoing specialist training to support employees experiencing domestic violence and includes proactive ways to assist colleagues. Also, workers suffering domestic abuse can use up to 10 days additional paid leave, entitled extra ‘safe’ leave for workers who need time away from work to handle the situation for counseling but also attending police or court appointments as well as moving house or supporting their children. Timuray states “With our global policy we aim not only to help any employees experiencing abuse access the professional support but also to raise awareness of the issue amongst all employees and make it easier for those affected to feel that they can come forward and ask for help.”
These practical measures demonstrate an essential step forward by a global company recognizing this is a problem that affects the well-being of their staff and the fabric of their organization. When one considers the scale of countries where Vodafone operates and how in some of these areas domestic violence is acceptable as part of the culture this is a compelling approach by a commercial organization. Over the last ten years there have been seismic shifts as the boundaries between work and home have become blurred, but in most cases, the change has been towards work encroaching on the domestic front. The most common areas where personal lives have come into the workplace have centered around maternity leave and more recently, raised awareness around greater openness around LGBTQ+ identification. It’s fair to say these areas have benefitted from greater visibility and developed in response to changes in society.
Working lives are an essential part of life and now more than ever there are very few boundaries between these areas.
The toolkit Vodafone has developed is available for sharing with any other organization and this in itself is progressive as the company is building on the success of activism that has been so effective in other areas such as sexual harassment and the Me Too campaign. Domestic abuse still remains hidden and is still not addressed. The complex and entangled nature of these experiences means it’s going to be more challenging to deal with. Creating a platform of collaboration for this area demonstrates Vodafone’s position to be a leader, and it’s the aspiration to create a tidal wave of change by encouraging others to come on the journey and share knowledge and practice in this space. Anecdotally women still talk about line-managers not feeling comfortable discussing maternity leave when women are visibly pregnant, so huge steps need to be taken with HR to ensure women and men feel comfortable discussing domestic abuse.
Two-thirds of the respondents felt safer in the workplace than at home, but the knock-on effects around mental health and stress still have a significant impact on the ability of individuals to perform well and deal with an increasingly complex and stressful working environment. A third of the respondents (women and men) described how the impact of domestic abuse meant they experienced in their work performance and the quality of their work decreased.
Vodafone has taken a bold step in shining a light on this area, and no doubt will trigger a lot of conversations around how we challenge assumptions around the divisions between work and life. By creating an open-source collaboration for organizations to utilize these resources and share feedback Vodafone recognizes this area needs to be amplified to build awareness and funds and increase comfort around this area. A colleague at Vodafone having experienced violent domestic abuse couldn’t focus on work or face customers, through the initiative of supporting her she describes the experience as Vodafone “wrapping its arms around me” – this is as personal as work gets.
For more information visit Vodafone Foundation.
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