Natalie Curtis, HSES Project Partner
When I became a victim of domestic abuse, everything changed in my life. I went from being a happy, confident and outgoing person into a recluse. There’s no other word for it. I went from someone who loved my work, and enjoyed my career to someone who couldn’t really function in the workplace.
I was under enormous pressure – and the abusive, coercive behaviour from my ex-husband turned me into someone I wasn’t. I found myself ignoring people, bursting into tears – just existing in the place I once thrived. At the time, I kept making excuses for what he was doing to me, the constant calls and distraction – but I was genuinely scared about what would happen to me.
Eventually, with the support of my family, friends, Essex Police and Women’s Aid, I was able to make the decision to leave my marital home for good. And when I informed my employer, Balfour Beatty, they were incredibly supportive. It may sound simple, but they believed me - and that alone made a huge difference. But, they did much more than that. They allowed me the time and space away from work I needed to get back on my feet. And once I came back they made it possible for me to attend regular counselling sessions and programmes run by Women’s Aid. I had regular catch-up meetings with my manager to check on my progress and to discuss what support I needed to keep getting better.
I am now back at work full-time and I’m using my experience to help and support other people. I’ve done events and national media interviews for Women’s Aid campaigns. I’m doing my bit to end the stigma around domestic violence and abuse by working with Balfour Beatty to consider how we can be an active member of the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse. I know more than most what the help of a good employer can do at a time of genuine crisis – I am passionate about everyone’s right to that support.
Engagement with Everyone’s Business
Paul Quinlan, Head of Employee Relations, EY
When we are faced with a set of shocking statistics here at EY, we tend to sit up and take notice. And the stats relating to domestic abuse are shocking. One in four women, and one in six men will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives.
The numbers tell some of the story, though too often, only a fraction of problems are ever reported. So we should never lose sight of what we are really talking about here; our friends and colleagues suffering, right here in our workplaces. This most crucially affects their wellbeing, but it also impacts their development and performance at work. Of course it must be all of our business.
As a member of the Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse, we are making a positive change in the level of support we offer in this area. We know that with 14,500 staff in the UK, there are likely to be hundreds of our people we can reach, in need of help. This could be through encouraging someone to seek support, signposting to specialist services, or helping someone’s friend or loved one. In order to help address this, in November 2018 we launched domestic abuse guidance, training for key stakeholders - such as HR teams - and started a campaign to raise awareness, letting our people know that they would have a safe environment to seek support.
“Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, help is closer than you think.” That is the message we are delivering to our staff and stakeholders through articles, press releases, social media campaigns, our web presence and posters.
However, before we started to communicate our new approach, we worked with recognised charities, campaign groups, and Everyone’s Business to hone our approach. That meant that when we launched our guidance it was backed up by some new policies, such as special paid leave for people experiencing abuse. Staff are also offered specialist counselling services and an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate. Some other support was already available, such as care pathways to professional help and flexible working arrangements, but we brought the information together to ensure that it was more readily accessible to those affected and their managers.
People affected by domestic abuse at home often see work as a safe space.We want it to be more than that. We want our workplaces to be both safe – and supportive. And through the Employers’ Initiative we are committed to working with others to make that the norm across all UK businesses.