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It’s on all of us: Four ways employers can help prevent male violence against women

Allison Gilbert, Culture & Communications Manager at RAPP UK highlights the proactive steps businesses can take to safeguard women against male violence.

Allison Gilbert, RAPP UK

Culture & Communications Manager

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Our industry has been scarred by the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard. As an advertising executive, she was one of our own.

Businesses, brands and employers are sitting up and asking themselves what their role is in ending violence against women. The answer is that there is much to be done.

According to a recent survey by UN Women UK, 86% of women in Britain have reported experiencing sexual harassment in public, though I would argue that figure is closer to 100%, as women and girls have been conditioned to accept harassment as a fact of life.

As a society we need to alter our perception of what constitutes harassment, violence and abuse. We also need to help ourselves to see the bigger picture, to examine the systems and constructs that maintain the status quo of misogyny and discrimination that ultimately concludes with violence against women.

My education began as a teen in northern New England. I would occasionally make some extra cash doing filing for a company in the holidays and got to know many of the employees. One woman had a husband who was emotionally abusive. The company sheltered some of her income so that she could afford to leave her husband. Another woman had to change her and her children’s identities before she started working at the firm. The firm worked to keep her employment and housing information under her new name untraceable. The sense of security and safety it provided meant everything to her.

The workplace plays an essential role not only helping those most in need, but in producing lasting societal change for gender equality and liberation. Employers must maintain focus to the women who are left most marginalised in our society by working to understand and correct the systems working against them.

My experiences taught me that money, time, education, accessibility to resources and childcare are the main obstacles that prevent women from enjoying their autonomy and independence. These factors equally apply in the instances of gender-based harassment and violence, and employers can help all women by making meaningful interventions in these areas.

The best way to start is simple: actively listen to find out what women need and are not getting.

Allison Gilbert

What can be done?

Money: Pay gaps and career lags leave women less able to leave unhealthy or abusive situations. On average, British women stand to lose out on £100k in their retirement versus men and are therefore more likely to experience homelessness. The pandemic has set back the time frame for closing the gender pay gap by as much 80 years but women don’t have the luxury of time.

What can be done? Prioritise closing pay gaps, review and improve talent development programmes and succession planning. Escalate this as a priority and invest what’s required to fix it.

Time and accessibility: If a woman is in an unsafe or unhealthy situation the window for her to get the support she requires is incredibly small.

What can be done? Businesses can close those margins by having policies and protocols in place that allow for a rapid, effective response. This might mean holding emergency budgets to help employees get to safety. It could be revising, simplifying and signposting policies for reporting misconduct or it could mean holding everyone, regardless of seniority, to the same standards of conduct and behaviour.

Education: Comprehensive sexuality education enhances gender liberation and parity, decrease instances of STIs and unintended pregnancy and reduces sexual harassment and violence.

What can be done? Unfortunately, this curriculum is not mandatory and still not offered in the majority of schools. Self-education is the essential first step to allyship and we will not be able to correct these problems if we can’t identify and understand them first.

The Family Care Penalty: The TUC calculated a 7% pay gap between mothers and non-mothers with similar education, occupation and social class, while a working dad is paid 21% more than a childless man. Add to this the high cost of childcare, and women are too often forced out of employment and back into full-time unpaid domestic work. Looking after aging parents is another responsibility more often shouldered by women.

What can be done? Offer subsidised or free family care support and empower employees to work as flexibly as needed. Pay women salaries they can support a family on without a second income. Invest in their career development. Fight to keep them in the workplace.

Imagine a different future

So yes, take reports about workplace harassment seriously, and keep the conversation around allyship going. Support Dan Cullen Shute and the IPA’s campaign to help keep women safe by making taxis a legitimate business expense before 9pm.

But fixing this problem ultimately requires employers to take ownership of their duty of care and proactively invest to reconfigure a system designed to sustain white, male heteronormative superiority.

We have to imagine a different future for ourselves. The systemic oppression of and violence against women will be impossible to resolve without everyone’s active participation in challenging misogyny everywhere. The best way to start is simple: actively listen to find out what women need and are not getting. They will give us the answers and solutions we need to advocate for.

Guest Author

Allison Gilbert, RAPP UK

Culture & Communications Manager,

About

Allison Gilbert is the Culture & Communications Manager at RAPP UK where she is part of the agency's ambitious strategy to grow and develop a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce. American born and bred, she cut her teeth as a political organiser for reproductive rights before moving to London where she co-founded and co-chaired the Democrats Abroad UK Women's Caucus in 2015. Bringing her political organising expertise and sociology background to RAPP, she leads the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee in its mission to place an intersectional mindset at the heart of the business.