Male violence – what can workplaces do?

Male violence towards women fits uneasily in the diversity and inclusion discourse. Yet as these past weeks alone have highlighted there isn’t a woman in the world who will not at some stage in her life be aware of it. Most likely the way we move in public and negotiate space and avoid confrontations is determined by the threat of it, the fear of it. There are many men who fail to understand how these basic safety mechanisms are hard wired into our brains from a young age – we are taught it so well so young that it becomes second nature. We know what can happen when we are off guard, and often even on guard. A man walking too close to you and voicing sexual suggestions is an assault of a kind, an intrusion into our space and well-being. We don’t report these incidents because quite honestly they are just too frequent and the man has moved on. To remonstrate would be to risk a more violent response so we just quickly walk on by.  And we know too well from media reports what horrors may befall women who are physically attacked by strangers, however infrequently that happens.  Women have no way of distinguishing between a good or a bad man. All men need to take that on board.

As a sociologist I have long argued that organisations are part of a social system and as such what happens outside its doors impacts what happens inside. The wider social status of women is the context in which organisations are implementing their individual D & I gender equality policies. Violence, both the threat and the actual faced by your female employees every day needs to be acknowledged.

What can organisations do beyond acknowledging this and engaging in talking about it? That is a good start and has still to my knowledge not been done by many.

Available support, both internal and external to the organisation, tends to focus on domestic abuse, which whilst impacts both men and women is far more commonly directed towards women. On January 14th 2021 the business minister Paul Scully MP wrote to organisations setting out how employers can help workers find the right support for domestic abuse.

In the letter the Minister said, A new report published by my department today has found that few employers are aware of the signs of domestic abuse, and an even smaller number have a clear policy in place to support survivors. For too long, a lack of awareness of and stigma around speaking about domestic abuse has stopped workplaces from putting in place the kind of help that survivors so desperately need. It was once taboo to talk about mental health, but now most workplaces have well-established policies in place. We want to see the same happen for domestic abuse, but more quickly and more effectively.”

White Ribbon UK is a leading charity engaging with men and boys to end violence against women. White Ribbon’s accreditation programme is one such step that organisations may think about.

Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse is a newish initiative and a very welcome one that provides resources for organisations which want to offer support for those suffering from domestic violence

In terms of ensuring that female staff feel safe at work, if working at night or late evening, providing adequate lighting and the positioning of car parks are also some tangible things that all organisations can do. Raising awareness of what life is like for women and enabling discussion between men and women, be a should be something included in all diversity and inclusion programmes. The problem is so endemic it should not be taboo.

The big shift that needs to happen for change to take place is to take the focus away from women having to keep themselves safe towards all men trying to create the conditions in which women can move about in freedom.  

Equality between men and women will remain a far off dream until the issue of male violence is resolved. All organisations can play their part.