Small Business Supports Survivors of Gender-Based Violence

August 2, 2017 • 5 min read
Katelyn Peters

Katelyn Peters

Content Editor

On Thursday, July 20th, the Townsquared Seattle community gathered to hear from Seattle policymakers and activists at The Riveter, a co-working space built to empower women. Small business owners learned about ways the small business community can participate in the prevention of gender-based violence. Panelists discussed ways to help prevent violence and abuse from entering the workplace, and advice for employers who want to support survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

Gender-Based Violence Prevention for Small Business Owners

Moderator Katie Vail, a consultant who works with the City of Seattle to advocate for survivors rights, asked our panelists questions like:

  • What are practical things employers can do to help prevent sexual assault?
  • What are other ways employers can be supportive of their employee’s safety and well being?
  • How can employers create an environment where employees feel comfortable seeking support?
  • What more can employers do to support the survivor movement?

Local Policymakers and Activists

Our panelists included David Martin, Senior Deputy Prosecutor for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO) and supervisor of the Domestic Violence unit; Kelly Herron, survivor of a mid-run attack; Susan Segall, activist with over 30 years’ experience in mission-driven nonprofit management; and Claudia Alexandra Paras, Community Liaison at the Seattle Office of Labor Standards.

Small Businesses are Stakeholders

Small businesses as stakeholders have not been included in many conversations about the ways that violence and abuse impact the workplace. However, the small business community has the potential to tangibly contribute to helping make our communities safer.

gender-based violence Courtesy of The Riveter

Kelly Herron credits a self-defense class that her employer offered for giving her the skills to fight back against her attacker. Herron’s employer encouraged her to see a therapist and told her to take her vacation time to recover, assuring her that if she needed more time they would explore the possibility of short-term disability. When she returned to work, her employer let her “practice being at work.” She came into the office 4 days a week for 4 hours, and was asked to do nothing except sit at her desk. Kelly says that her employer’s compassion allowed her to integrate back into the workplace without pressure.

The Seattle Paid Sick and Time Ordinance (PSST) law took effect on September 1, 2012. According to the Seattle Office of Labor Standards website, this law, “Provides critical protection for workers who need to take time off work for safety issues, including domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.” Paid Sick and Safe Time will be available to all employees in Washington state starting in 2018.

Seattle’s progressive labor laws and a community of forward-thinking small businesses in the city are working together to make sure that employees of all gender identifications are safe in the workplace. David Martin said, “We are not going to arrest or prosecute our way out of gender violence. It requires all of the community getting together to bring their unique knowledge and expertise to make a difference. The Seattle small business community is renown for dynamic innovation. We hope this is the start of great partnership.”

Tips For Supporting Survivors

gender-based violence Courtesy of The Riveter

Our panelists suggested these practical tips for employers to support their employees safety and wellbeing:

1. Educate your employees on their rights. For Seattle small businesses, your internal employee handbook should include that your employees can use Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST) for reasons related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

2. Kelly Herron has been very open about how a positive workplace culture made it easier for her to ask for help, and to return to work. Make sure that your staff are aware that when they decide to take advantage of their employee benefits, they do not have to disclose any information that they don’t feel comfortable sharing, or explain why.

3. The obstacles are greater when seeking employment for those who’ve experienced gender-based violence. However, employment is a step towards independence and can be a huge asset, especially for those in domestic violence situations. Don’t look over resumes just because there are gaps in employment.

4. As an employer, acknowledge that gender-based violence is an issue by taking seriously any signals that your employee is in a dangerous situation. These might be schedule changes, changes in job performance and/or workplace disruptions. Make sure that you have a plan in place in advance of any incidents. Don’t wait until the issue comes up to reassure your staff that you will respond positively and take action to support them in whatever way that you can.

5. For survivors of assault, or other forms of violence, ask, “How can I help?” Survivors experience a range of responses. Even being willing to relocate a person’s work station is one way you can support your employees.

6. Every workplace should have their own policy in place and there should be open conversation about it. Statistically, it has to be true that someone you know has been impacted by gender-based violence. If you haven’t been impacted personally, it’s easy to think of these issues as someone else’s problem. Mainstreaming the issue by talking about it publicly can change the culture of your workplace.

Our event organizer, Wendy Gillihan, small business owner and advocate for the rights of sexual assault survivors, said in her closing remarks that the most important thing employers can do to support the survivor movement is to impart the corporate value that, “abuse and gender-based violence are never acceptable.”

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