WORKING WITH MEN TO END VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Elizabeth (Beth) Shaw is the President of UN Women Australia National Committee in addition to working in management consultancy with KPMG’s advisory practice. Within her role she’s had the opportunity to contribute to culture change within her corporate workplace.
Beth first became interested in women’s rights and ending violence against women when she was at university, and immersing herself in extracurricular activities and youth advocacy roles. This led to her appointment as Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations (UN) in 2008, which involved travelling around Australia speaking to thousands of young people about the issues they felt were important. Beth then had the opportunity to present these findings to the UN General Assembly. This experience helped her see the impact that women’s rights have on many other issues that the world faces:
“This was just a phenomenal experience… I kind of went there wearing a hat of ‘we need to involve people in the decision making that particularly affect them,’ but when I was there and I was working with various committees, whether it was with a group working to prevent HIV or on economic development or increasing children’s literacy rates — all of the things that we talked about in terms of what could make a difference started with the role of women.”
While at the UN, Beth saw the critical role that women played in economic development, violence prevention, and other positive mechanisms for people and communities, and realised that development cannot happen without the involvement and empowerment of women:
“Women are the great enablers of most of the things we’re trying to achieve.”
Within Beth’s role at KPMG, she has a focus on change management and organisational design, where she has the opportunity to influence people through times of transformation. Through a series of pro bono projects working on gender adversity issues, Beth has been able to translate her experience at the UN as well as her role with UN Women into her workplace. This was especially important when KPMG became a member of the Male Champions of Change program.
As an organisation aiming to encourage and support more women to enter positions of leadership and achieve a more equal workplace, KPMG's leadership realised it could not do so unless it recognised the extreme impact of domestic and family violence on the workplace. Beth assisted KPMG in determining what the role of business should be on the issue of family violence, and helped change how the firm conceived of its role:
“Over the last two years the conversation has moved on — at the beginning there was a real struggle from a lot of organisations to accept that they had some role to play in supporting their people experiencing violence. There’s a lot of stigma surrounding domestic violence and they thought that people wouldn’t want to talk about it in their workplace.
Ultimately we came to the view that if something is impacting employees it affects employers and companies can’t shy away from that. We also talked about the impact of domestic and family violence on the workplace: in addition to being the right thing to do to look after their people, there is also the huge productivity impact. Companies were already dealing with the cost of these issues, and it was important for them to see the benefits of supporting and retaining their staff.”
From there, Beth worked to develop a three-pronged workplace response that focussed on keeping employees safe (which includes providing flexible working hours, security escorts, distributing referrals to support services, providing access to free and confidential counselling services, and having the ability to quickly make changes to phone and email addresses); helping businesses support employees who are experiencing family violence (including providing domestic violence leave, helping them retain their job, and making sure they’re in an economically stable position so they have the means to escape their situation); and encouraging organisations and their CEO’s to act as community leaders, as well as working with their supply chains, to make it clear that violence against women is unacceptable.
“We had some great stories come out of the Male Champions of Change, such as Telstra providing free mobile phones and sim cards to women’s refuges and banks providing financial literacy training to people experiencing violence.”
Beth is excited by the immense potential of the Male Champions of Change program: it spans a range of industries, geographies and contexts, and touches millions of people through the businesses themselves, their supply chains and communities.
“When you’ve got a problem that is of the size and scale that it is in Australia, we’re not going to be able to make a difference if we work in a really siloed way. We can’t change this issue unless we change the culture, and we can’t change the culture unless all society is standing shoulder to shoulder and saying ‘this is unacceptable’.”
Beth is pleased by the increasing support survivors of domestic violence receive in their workplaces. In the long run, she hopes that businesses will continue to step up and play their part by joining in with the rest of the community and supporting the message that violence against women is unacceptable.
“I think we’re getting better at understanding the link between societies where men and women are very unequal and the high rates of violence. My biggest hope is that we can work towards greater gender equality, whether it’s in terms of women being represented in leadership roles and are in positions of formal and informal power, having more economic security and being free from violence. All these issues are interrelated: so when you see results in one area you are more likely to see results in other areas.”