How employers can create safer workplaces for women

Claire Williams, MD Operations at Inclusive Employers, provides guidance and action points for your workplace to provide a safe space for women.

The rise in violence against women has recently become more visible than ever. From the #MeToo campaign, which saw many women victimised and unsafe in a variety of environments, to the tragic death of Sarah Everard at the hands of a male in power.

All throughout the world, people are calling for change to end violence and discrimination against women. Employers have a responsibility to keep women secure, as well as to initiate talks and challenge misogyny.

In this article, we’ll look at ways employers can make workplaces safer for women and support their needs.

The importance of having a focus on preventing violence against women

On a global scale, it is estimated that 736 million women, which is almost one in three, have experienced intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life.

Although there are initiatives to provide resources to women who have been victims of abuse, it is critical that everyone concentrates on ways to prevent violence from occurring in the first place.

Discrimination against women occurs on a regular basis, and it is everyone’s responsibility to confront it and have open conversations about it.

Prevention allows for structural changes to be addressed, as well as to support women’s diverse needs in order to help them feel safe.

What is White Ribbon Day?

White Ribbon Day begins on Thursday 25th November. This day, and the 16 days that follow, have been designated as a period of time to come together to end violence against women.

People are being asked in their communities, organisations, and workplaces, to collectively say “no” to violence against women.

The theme for White Ribbon Day 2021

This year, the key message of White Ribbon Day is “#AllMenCan.” A message which can be used as a conversation prompt and an opportunity to change and challenge thinking around women’s safety.

In the workplace, you can open up conversations about how males should pledge to never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women. This theme is a contrast to the “#notallmen,” which creates a defensive message and is not helpful to the situation.

We all work with, love, and admire amazing men. However, if the immediate response from a male is “it’s not me,” they are not understanding the problem. To use an analogy from social media, if you are swimming in an ocean with 100 species of sharks, and only one of them is deadly (but you can’t identify which one), you will naturally protect yourself against and fear all of them.

Participating in White Ribbon Day 2021 is an opportunity to review how you are enabling the prevention of violence against women and promoting women’s safety at work.

How employers can take action for women’s safety at work

The murder of Sarah Everard tragically highlighted that the narrative on women’s safety needs to change. It is not about how women should change their behaviour to be safer.

We can all play a role as employers by raising awareness and having important discussions about the importance of psychological and physical safety. Both aspects of safety are essential for an inclusive culture to exist.

Take a look at some of the inclusion actions that organisations should think about and plan for below.

Use trigger warnings before starting the conversation

There will be people in your team who have had experiences of violence, threats, and harassment. Whether this has been at home, on the street, or anywhere else. It is important to take care not to trigger historical, or possibly current, events for them.

Ensure all premises and work arrangements are as safe as possible

This point does not refer to just having a conversation about well-lit car parks, as these efforts should already be in place for all your staff.

It is important to consider the meaning behind why we need well-lit car parks and considering the bigger picture. A conversation that is just about well-lit car parks is avoiding the real issues.

Check in with your women’s networks and colleagues about how they are feeling

Checking in with colleagues and women’s networks about things they may want to see happening in the organisation to feel safer is a great way to start.

You could do this by setting up a listening circle so voices are heard, and actions can be put in place.

Recognise the problem with media coverage

There is a terrible truth that violence against Black, Brown, ethnic minority women and trans women does not get the media coverage that we are seeing currently.

It is important to consider what this says about society. The world does not feel a safe place for minority groups, how will this truth be impacting your colleagues?

How to encourage male colleagues to be allies to women

Male allies are essential. The issue isn’t only a discussion among women; everyone should be a supporter of women and work to stop all forms of violence and discrimination against them.

Here are some ideas for encouraging men to be allies.

Be role models

Being a role model in organisations is extremely important for sending a message and setting a standard. By speaking about the issues, or blogging about the issues, men can raise awareness and act as an example to be imitated.

Always challenge misogynistic comments or actions

One of the most important ways to prevent misogynistic remarks or actions is to oppose them. Such remarks become normalised and rationalised if they are not challenged.

Misogynistic behaviour is never appropriate, and if it does occur, it should be taken very seriously.

Open conversations to change the environment

You can learn more and understand how to influence the environment by starting conversations.

Have you ever wondered why fathers are so protective of their daughters, for example? Consider why this is and how men should act to change the environment rather than react to it.

Ask female friends or co-workers what you can do to help them feel more secure. Women face prejudice and abuse in a variety of ways, so figuring out how you can help on a personal level is a great place to start.

Engage men in women’s safety

The White Ribbon Day theme this year of ‘#AllMenCan’ is a call to action for men to work together, with each other and women.

Women are publicly discussing everything they do to stay secure. For example, putting on trainers so they can run if necessary, or being on the phone or appearing to be on the phone so they can indicate that a third party will be notified if something happens.

Is it important to consider whether or not the males in our life are aware of this.  Women do these things all the time, but there has never been a discussion about it. Men should understand how their partners, mothers, sisters, and daughters protect themselves when they are alone.

As an employer, encourage male colleagues to ask the women in their lives how they feel about their safety. Ask how society might need to change to be safer for women in all environments. Create safe spaces for these dialogues to take place.

We can support you to have these conversations and create safer workplaces for women. Members please get in touch with your account manager directly.