A question I get all the time is. ‘We have had a policy for a while and yet so few people are disclosing domestic family violence in our workplace, why?’
The answer to that question is complicated. There are many reasons, but I believe without addressing these three issues it will not change and employees will continue to feel unsafe disclosing in the workplace.
- Having someone safe to disclose the abuse too.
- Company/Group culture
We are living in a culture of self-sufficiency. We are encouraged to be powerful, to overcome. Popular culture, the political world are all giving us the same message. If we are determined enough, smart enough, resilient enough, we will succeed.
Being independent and in charge of our lives is seen as successful. So is it any wonder when someone has worked hard to be respected in their workplace, that they would be resistant to disclosing and admitting they are not only struggling at home but are unsafe due to abuse.
They have worked hard to be respected in the workplace so the thought of disclosing and being pitied instead is not an easy decision.
Add to that the risk of not being believed and to have given up that respect and making the situation worse, because you have now impacted your work environment, on top of what is going on at home.
Creating an environment of empathy and understanding where people feel they will be understood and supported is vital.
Having someone safe to disclose to
Disclosing to someone is one of the hardest things I have ever done. In my first disclosure to my boss, (which was not common or encouraged all those years ago) I was believed, empathised with and acknowledged. This interaction probably saved my life, years later when I was ready to leave I felt save disclosing.
After I had disclosed even though my boss was amazingly supportive, I felt apprehensive about my work performance.
Choosing someone to disclose to especially at work brings up so much fear:
- Will it look bad for my career?
- Will my boss lose respect for me?
- Will they start to think I am incapable of doing my job?
- Will they think I am stupid for putting up with this?
- Will it be in my personnel file?
- What if I am not believed, I will have impacted my career for no reason?
- What if they don’t understand?
- What if they call the police or social services, I could lose my children?
- What if my partner finds out, I have talked about their abuse at work?
- What if my colleagues find out? I will feel so exposed.
- What if I lose my job?
If we start to look at disclosure from the perspective of the person going through the abuse, we can see disclosing is an overwhelmingly difficult thing to feel safe enough to do.
Does your company has a culture which would encourage people to feel safe to disclose. If someone is surrounded by talk about weakness and people who don’t cope with being seen as weak and not as intelligent. It will not feel safe.
I know for many it will seem unlikely anyone would think someone going through domestic violence is not intelligent, but you would be amazed how many times somebody has said to me.
‘You seem too smart to have been abused like that’
My response is:
‘Yes, I needed to be very smart to simply survive on a daily basis’
Let me make this clear, domestic family violence does not discriminate and there is no type.
A culture of sexism will prevent someone from disclosing. It is impossible to be confident in an environment where you are made to feel less than.
If you work in a group/team where there is an imbalance of power and control. When there is no way to feel safe disclosing to your boss, and the fear of going over their head would keep you from seeking support.
As I stated earlier until we create a culture of understanding and empathy we will continue to suppress people from reaching out for help and encouraging a culture of power and control.