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Some years ago, our eyes were opened to the scale of domestic abuse, when we learned that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men would endure domestic abuse at some stage in their lives. Domestic abuse doesn't discriminate and it comes in many forms. The incidence of domestic abuse in same sex couples is also about 1 in 4. Domestic abuse can often include, but is not limited to:
75% of those affected by domestic abuse are targeted in the workplace. Two women a week lose their lives to domestic violence in the UK.
As an international law firm with around 1200 employees in the UK, we knew the prevalence of domestic abuse in society meant it was likely that at least some people within our organisation would be affected by it. It was awful to think there were people we worked with that might be experiencing domestic abuse, so we decided to take action.
After ensuring the support of Gowling WLG’s senior leadership, we provided expert training and guidance to a range of employees. We brought in a charity to train our HR team on how to understand the signs of abuse and how to support those who disclosed.
We also trained staff on reception as well as our Practice Operation Managers, who help organise personnel; as they’re well trusted by colleagues and immersed into the organisation, we knew they would benefit from understanding how to identify the signs of abuse – and our reception team are well placed to spot odd patterns of behaviour such as someone being very agitated as they leave the building. Perpetrators can harass colleagues by emails, calls and texts, so our IT team were also trained.
After the training, several Practice Operation Managers realised that some of the people they were in contact with were actually experiencing domestic abuse, and were able to give them more specialised support them.
We used our intranet to signpost all employees to a wide range of support groups. To help staff feel more comfortable in accessing support, we made the framing indirect, asking for example ‘are you worried about someone experiencing domestic abuse’. Our signposting included information for perpetrators looking to address their abusive behaviours. All this information was very well received, and the website received a high volume of traffic.
To give employees further access to support, we have now trained up domestic violence champions and we regularly put posters up on the back of toilet doors, sharing stories of men and women who had experienced a wide range of abuse - from coercion and control to rape. The posters explain that ‘help is closer than you think’, and we provide information about specialist support as well as the option of talking to one of the champions.
The posters helped normalise talking about domestic abuse in a supportive environment, and time and again we have heard how the information has helped employees realise that what was happening to them wasn’t normal and that they could get support.
Around 20 colleagues from across the business have come forward to ask for support to date as a result of these efforts – from more junior to very senior employees. The help we provided to these employees included time off for counselling, as well as enabling police to come in and help staff in a safe environment. Many more employees have visited our intranet pages, with the 'signposting' page linking to specialist support agencies being particularly heavily used, so we are pretty sure we are reaching many people in the firm.
Lorna GavinHead of Diversity, Inclusion & Corporate Responsibility, Gowling WLG
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