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Women@Work

The business case for ending violence against women Add to ...

There’s another reason why women don’t “lean in” at work, according to a new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

It’s not due to lack of ambition, or any unconscious bias against them in the corporate world. It’s violence, according to the report, titled “The Gap in the Gender Gap.” Violence against women, including sexual assault, not only prevents them from advancing their careers, it also costs the Canadian economy $1.9-billion a year, the report says.

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Although the business world has embraced the notion of corporate social responsibility, support for anti-violence initiatives is relatively uncommon. This is puzzling, given the issue has a direct impact on workers, productivity and the bottom line. According to a Statistics Canada figure cited in the CCPA report, 70 per cent of Canadian women in the work force say they have experienced spousal violence.

A lot of people harbour misconceptions about sexual violence that may be reflected in business attitudes. Many seem to feel it is an issue that plagues “other people,” or that women bring it on themselves. For example, one in five Canadians believe that women encourage sexual assault by being drunk, according to a recent survey by the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Flirting and wearing a short skirt were also given as reasons why women are assaulted.

It has been estimated that 50 per cent of women in Canada will experience an act of physical or sexual violence, so it isn’t a stretch to think that it may be affecting your employees or your colleagues.

Protecting women from violence is not only an ethical and legal issue, it’s also a financial one, including loss of wages, which are substantial: One-third of Canadians who report experiencing sexual assault had household incomes of more than $100,000, according to the CCPA study.

“We need to make the case that preventing violence against women is not only the right thing to do, it is good for business as well,” said Todd Minerson, executive director of the White Ribbon Campaign in Toronto, a global movement of men working to end violence against women and girls.

He noted that Canadian men are on board with the anti-violence message. White Ribbon’s research shows that 94 per cent of Ontario men consider violence against women an important issue to them, and 87 per cent think it affects all women.

Some companies, such as Ontario Power Generation, for example, have worked to end the violence with financial support for women’s shelters and services in the communities where they operate. And some companies are developing their own programs to tackle the issue, both for their employees and the broader community.

White Ribbon is working with companies such as Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp., where it is designing a series of violence prevention programs for the company’s mine sites around the world. “This shows tremendous leadership and vision,” Mr. Minerson said of Barrick’s initiative. “To invest in meaningful, collaborative, community-driven and relevant prevention projects is a real commitment to ending gender-based violence.”

To illustrate the impact of violence against women on corporate productivity, Mr. Minerson related an account of a Barrick mine supervisor in Zambia. An employee received a call that his sister’s husband was attacking her and he needed to leave to ensure her safety. The only way back to town, about an hour’s drive away, was in the supervisor’s truck. The supervisor sent two other miners along to ensure additional violence didn’t ensue, even though it meant he lost half his team for the shift, reducing that day’s production.

Adnauer Amorim, president of Avon Canada in Montreal, said his company is working hard to “bring this issue out of the shadows” through the Avon Foundation for Women, which finances initiatives to build awareness and improve prevention, as well as Avon’s “empowerment products,” which support charitable partners.

He says he believes businesses can have a “trickle down effect” in preventing violence against women because they are in a position to communicate more directly with the wider community.

“So many victims of domestic violence live in silence – it’s critical that we work together to break that silence, and remove the fear and stigma often associated with it,” Mr. Amorim said. “The more people talk about it, the more we can bring about change.”

Leah Eichler is the founder of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises.

E-mail: leah.eichler@femme-o-nomics.com

Twitter: @femmeonomics

Follow on Twitter: @LeahEichler

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