How business can help stop violence against women (video)

How business can help stop violence against women (video)

1 in 3 women is physically abused worldwide. In Romania, 77% of women believe violence against women is common. 52% of the calls received by Asociatia Telefonul Copilului in the first half of 2021 were reports of domestic violence. Domestic abuse is one of the most widely spread forms of gender-based violence but it is not the only type of violence against women. Sexual harassment, propagation of gender inequalities and reinforcement of gender stereotypes result in much harm to the well-being of women. All forms of violence against women generate losses in productivity, motivation at work, emotional imbalances, and low quality of life.

Through “Business Helps Stop Violence Against Women,” we wanted to mark and honour the 2021 International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We spoke to Diana Elena Neaga, ANES (Agentia Natională Pentru Egalitate de Șanse), Cătălina Olteanu, Board Member, Consiliul Național pentru Combaterea Discriminării, Elisabeta Moraru, Country Manager, Google Romania, Anca Mitu, General Director and Partner, Privileg Catering, Leonard Rizoiu, Managing Partner, LEO HR, Roxana Cîlțea, HR Head, Sanofi Romania & Moldova. Find below the highlights of our conversation:

Is violence against women related to gender equality and if so, how?

Lestat Monroe, Founder of RDCC: I believe that violence against women does relate to gender equality. Why would a man today hit a woman? It’s because of inequality in society. Once we change that thinking and promote gender equality, we might be able to solve some issues.

To not consider domestic violence as a priority at an HR level is a bit like not assessing risk management in your company. Will you not assess risk management? That would be totally crazy and would have a severe impact on the growth of the company. The same applies to your workforce. If a woman is a victim of domestic violence, that employee is not healthy and unproductive. That is also about assessing risk management correctly. We have a lot of progress to make in Romania but it is possible.  

What have been some of the challenges of running the ANES helpline?

Diana Elena Neaga, ANES (National Agency for Equal Opportunities between Women and Men): One big issue we are trying to tackle at the moment is the fact that women don’t know what kind of support they can receive from NGOs, the authorities or social services. It is important that victims of gender-based violence have this resource and know that they can find support. But they need to first be aware that such help exists. This is why we have partnerships with companies and public institutions that help up raise this awareness.

We are now closely working to implement many policies from the Istanbul Convention with help from social services. We have had some success already in that area and we have been able to set up shelters for victims of gender-based violence where they can receive support. We have partnered with major hospitals in Bucharest where people that have been sexually abused can receive support.

And for the first time in Romania, we are addressing the problem of the abusers and perpetrators as well. As we all know, we sadly live in a society that tolerates gender-based violence which is why many people become abusers. We are now working to address this by providing counselling sessions for perpetrators and working alongside them to help them in their recovery.

How does discrimination tie is in with violence against women?

Cătălina Olteanu, Board Member, CNDC (National Council for Combating Discrimination): Violence against women also means lack of equal pay and micro-aggressions. It can mean emotional abuse, humiliation and harassment, revenge porn and the normalisation of all forms of violence and the reproduction of stereotypes and prejudices against women. At CNDC we have a lot of cases where we have to talk about the lack of equal payment and moral harassment in the workplace. Education is crucial in combating stereotypes against women. If we don’t learn at school about the many forms of violence against women then young people will not learn to recognise these.

I run workshops with teachers where we talk about how we can recognise and address stereotypes but also about how we can encourage the political participation of women. We talk about how we can make space for women in sectors that are predominately male-led.

I find it very encouraging that teachers are open to talking about violence against girls and women at school. So change is happening and is possible and it is coming.

How do you educate your employees on topics such as gender diversity and violence against women?

Elisabeta Moraru, Country Manager, Google Romania: I cannot change the system, I cannot influence too much what the state is doing. So I look at the numbers with my colleagues and I look at how we can create training programmes that will help women. A 2021 McKinsey & Co study tells us that if we could improve women’s representation in the economy we can increase the GDP by 8.7% by 2030. This translates to €24 billion, a huge sum that would then be returned to the economy and be used to keep helping women. To achieve this, we need to have more women in the labour force and increase their hourly pay.

Around 52% of Romania’s population is comprised of women, 60% of which have a graduate degree. But only 45% of those enter the labour force.

So, pragmatically, what can Google Romania do about these issues? One way in which we support women and help them enter the labour market is through education. Many girls stop showing an interest in STEM careers when they enter teenagehood because they don’t have role models, they are scared they might not make it and believe they don’t have ‘it’.

For the last eight years, I have taught the Girls in Tech Romania programme and a question that girls often ask me at the beginning of the course is: ‘Do I have enough IQ to be in tech?’ This question says a lot about the mindset girls have when it comes to pursuing a STEM career. This year we have also launched the Mind the Gap programme, which is taking place now. It is a series of twenty talks on different topics ranging from coding to inspirational stories.

I have also done a video in the series and have spoken about the personal challenges of working in tech but also about how rewarding a career in STEM can be. We want to continue this programme next year and also have some scholarships that can allow girls from all backgrounds to access this programme. 

Talk us through your experience with violence against women. What challenges have you dealt with in your company and what are some good practices that companies can promote to prevent violence against women?

Roxana Cîlțea, HR Head, Sanofi Romania & Moldova: Preventing violence against women is a common societal goal, one that everyone should see as their responsibility to achieve. We can all fight against this by not remaining indifferent and by using whatever means we have to help. Businesses can do a lot to prevent physical and emotional abuse and they have to tackle the root causes of the abuse to succeed. As a company, we have a commitment to foster gender equality and diversity in the workplace. As companies, we should create policies and a safe workplace where women can feel they can disclose domestic violence.

I strongly believe, however, that when we discuss gender equality, diversity and inclusion companies cannot leave these topics to the HR department. These are topics that everyone in a company should be concerned with and that everyone should fight to be a part of the solution. We really make a point of practicing this as Sanofi where everyone is involved in finding solutions to these difficult societal problems.

Above all, at Sanofi, we are focused on empowering women to really have confidence in their abilities and strengths. We want them to become fully independent and create sustainable careers. We offer training for this and flexible working hours which we had in place before the pandemic. We allowed women and in fact all people to start their working day early or very late depending on their needs. This allowed people to deal with their personal challenges at home or with their parenting responsibilities.

Building representative leadership and having women as part of Sanofi leadership is another priority. We have clear KPIs in place for this at a global level. By 2025, we aim to have at least 50 female senior executives and at least 40 executives. We also want to be recognised as an employer of diversity.

At Sanofi Romania, we are doing pretty well. 55% of the workforce is female and 60% of the women that work for us are managers. We continue to strive and ensure full equity and meet all individual needs.

Violence against women can take many forms, it doesn’t refer just to physical violence. Could you tell us about your experiences of difficult situations in business and how you have dealt with them? What could businesses learn from how you have handled these situations?

Anca Mitu, General Director and Partner, Privileg Catering: Empathy alone cannot help people, you have to take action and help people see that they are not alone. I founded my business 25 years ago and have offered employment to many people from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds. Some of my employees came from very poor communities with low levels of education. I met women that were brutally abused by their husbands or their life partners. Their reality is a very harsh one, one where physical abuse happens on a daily basis. Generally, their husbands are under the influence of alcohol. This does not excuse their behaviour but it does explain that the lack of judgement their husbands experience in those moments. What can these women do?

One option is would be for them to return to their family home, which is usually in rural areas in Romania. Their families would most likely not take them in, however, as they fear being shamed by their neighbours for their daughter’s situation. They fear their daughters being blamed for the failure of the marriage. In rural Romania, victims are blamed for the divorce, not the perpetrators. In other words, it is better to die beaten by your husband than to admit to being a victim of domestic abuse. So returning is in fact not an option.

Going to the police is out of the question as well since policemen often have no empathy for victims. They will find the same attitudes among the police and face comments such as ‘You had it coming, you were asking for ‘it’. Seeking justice in the courts is also not an option. Few women ever manage to receive just financial compensation in a divorce settlement due to domestic violence.

When women aren’t able to find support with their families, the police or in front of a judge then the situation is hopeless. Education is the only thing that can put an end to this. Educating boys and men to fight against gender stereotypes. Education can help people fight against poverty and alcoholism and help them overcome violent tendencies and behaviours.

How do you teach people in institutions about violence against women? How do you create empathy at an institutional level?

Leonard Rizoiu, Managing Partner, LEO HR: Sadly, a lot of children witness the kind of violence Anca and Catalina were talking about, in their homes. They will grow up and copy this behaviour. It is very important to go into school and high schools and talk about domestic violence, gender equality, gender discrimination. But we should also encourage headteachers to address bullying in schools which is a type of behaviour that can easily develop into domestic abuse later on in life. We should go to institutions with projects, with ideas in order to change mindsets, to go to schools, to speak in public and write articles to raise awareness about what is actually happening. The numbers are shocking and reflect a deeply shocking reality. To tackle this, I think it is important to set up projects that we present and pitch to institutions just as you would in a business. Find below a list of things businesses can do to stop violence against women: 

  • Have internal regulations and policies to prevent domestic violence
  • Companies should have a flexible working arrangement
  • Access to unpaid leave
  • Having an environment of trust and making people feel safe to disclose
  • Protection for people who have disclosed
  • Training people to recognise the signs and risk factors of domestic violence
  • HR should not do this alone, they should build partnerships with outside services that specialise in helping people that are going through domestic violence
  • Offer an office location change
  • Offer financial support