This article is part of the Forum Network series on New Societal Contract.
The theme of this year’s OECD Forum is to explore what brings people together in an increasingly divided world - and especially, the role that business can play in fostering movements of unity and hope. Callie Strickland, who works on gender issues at The B Team, discusses business’s role in solving one of the most crucial issues: gender-based violence.
Gender-based violence (GBV), which can be understood as the use or threat of physical force against an individual based on their gender identity, represents one of the greatest risks to human potential worldwide. According to the UN, one in three women worldwide will experience physical and/or sexual violence in her lifetime. Despite this staggering number, less than 40% of women who experience violence will seek help of any kind, with less than 10% seeking help from the police.
The issue of gender-based violence is typically thought of as a human rights-based and largely domestic issue. But this perspective is incomplete: businesses are no less important actors in addressing and ending gender-based violence. Workplace gender-based violence persists around the world, threatening the health and safety of millions of women. Companies that do not take active steps only help to perpetuate this violence. It is time that the private sector viewed workplace-GBV as a C-Suite problem.
We have seen in recent months the power of listening to stories and testimony from victims and survivors of harassment and violence. We have been moved and angered by the harrowing experiences of those in industries ranging from film to international aid. Yet, while these stories are powerful, they are not enough to give a complete view that allows companies to see how GBV is hurting their whole business. There is a persistent lack of information illustrating how GBV affects all aspects of the value chain, including supply chains, revenues, operational costs, employee recruiting and retention, brand identity and customer base.
The small amount of available data quantifying the cost of workplace gender-based violence tends to focus on entire economies rather than individual sectors or value chains. This aggregated approach makes it easy to view workplace-GBV as someone else’s problem.
To properly engage the private sector, we need data that measures the impact of workplace-GBV across countries and sectors, presented in ways that provide clear steps and action points for businesses to engage with the challenge
We also need resources highlighting best practices for companies, such as counselling services, improved reporting and oversight processes, as well as mandatory and dynamic training sessions to educate employees about violence in the workplace and at home.
The private sector can and has been a powerful agent for change by protecting employees’ rights, improving work environments, creating better products, shifting cultural norms through customer beliefs and attitudes and incentivising better practices across industries. But it needs data, research, and continued leadership and expertise from civil society and human rights advocates to create holistic change and end GBV across the value chain.
The B Team’s greatest asset is its collective ability to shift the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of other leaders in business, government and civil society. And while several business leaders have spoken out on GBV, now is the time for us to spark a movement among the private sector.
In 2018, The B Team is committed to making the business case for eradicating gender-based violence through research and business leader engagement. We hope to help quantify the cost of gender-based violence and identify concrete steps that leaders can take to reduce the incidence and impact of gender-based violence on their employees, supply chains and businesses as a whole.
We strongly believe in the power of business to unite people and build a better world free of gender-based violence. And we hope you will join us.
Additional contributions from Tyler Zang, Emily Bonta and Dinah McLeod.
Read Chapter 11: Women at work: A snapshot of women in the labour force taken from the OECD report The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle