When Deborah Wilson was leading a large Sydney-based recruitment company, she sent an email to her 500-plus workforce outlining her intention to raise awareness of domestic violence. Within minutes, a couple of victims of such violence were at her office door.
One even revealed the bruises she hid under her office attire. “I was horrified,” Wilson tells me. “I worked with her every day and I had absolutely no idea. I felt so inadequate and responsible. I was leading this ship and I just didn’t know.”
That’s the thing about domestic violence. We expect to see visible signs on the victims of those affected or even believe such victims couldn’t possibly be the same people who work in a corporate environment.
But with one in three women over the age of 15 experiencing physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, and two thirds of those women employed, it’s likely that you have or currently do share an office with such victims – and/or that you’ve been a victim of such violence yourself.
As Wilson says: “You think you know these people, but you don’t know who you’re sitting next to.”
And if you lead an organisation – like Wilson did a number of years ago (she’s now an executive director with Trevor Roberts) – the role you could play in assisting such victims might be greater than you think.
The issue clearly caught Wilson’s heart, but as a CEO she admits that at the time she then had no idea how to deal with it.
Wilson cites another experience, discussing the matter of domestic violence with the head of HR in an organisation of more than 3000 employees. “He told me ‘I’ve never had an issue with domestic violence in our office’. And I thought, ‘Oh God and you’re never going to know that you actually do have an issue if you don’t put it out there and tell people that they have avenues they can explore for help and places they can go.”
Wilson is currently raising funds and awareness on domestic violence through the Australian CEO Challenge (where she also serves on the board), an initiative that sees executives compete against each other to raise awareness and funds to help promote workplaces and homes free from family violence.
Her part in the ‘race’ will see her participating in a number of ways: by promoting and selling the Workplace Domestic Violence Prevention program to organisations; by creating new job readiness training videos for victims of domestic violence to access in refuges; and by raising funds, particularly through her upcoming ‘More than just a Handbag’ cocktail event in Brisbane.
“My view is that no person should be subjected to domestic violence. Domestic violence is unacceptable,” says Wilson.
It’s a view reflected in former Governor-General Dame Quentin Bryce’s comments on why she’s chairing a new taskforce aimed at reducing domestic violence in Queensland.
"There are about 175 reports of domestic violence incidents every single day and no-one is going to dispute that this is absolutely appalling," she said while discussing the initiative earlier this week.
"I feel a personal and moral obligation to do anything I can to stem the tide of domestic violence.
"It's pervasive, it's insidious and it's got to be stopped.
Noting that in Queensland alone there are 175 reports of domestic violence incidents every day, she said violence against women is one of the gravest human rights challenges of our time.
It’s a challenge we must all step up to embrace and overcome.