Lion’s revamped domestic and family violence abuse policy sets a new benchmark for supporting employees to access the help they need.
Revamped in 2021, the policy builds on offering paid domestic and family violence leave to now also providing emergency short term accommodation for individuals and their immediate families in crisis.
They also provide loaner phones for team members who believe their phone may have been compromised and have upskilled their “Respect at Lion Champions” to become “First Responders” – individuals with specialised training who become “tellable people” for survivors and at-risk individuals to approach for support.
Key to the policy revamp is also in addressing the language used – adjusting it to family and domestic abuse, as opposed to violence. The employer has also developed a range of new resources to support leaders and individuals, as well as specific guides for the LGBTQ+ community that recognises the nuances in how abuse can present within this community.
We spoke to Lion’s Global Inclusion and Diversity Leader Sarah Abbott for the Family Friendly Workplaces Podcast, an initiative of Parents At Work asking how leaders are creating more supportive workplaces that acknowledge the needs and caring responsibilities staff have outside of work.
The conversation followed an earlier one we had with Lion’s then outgoing CEO Stuart Irvine, who outlined the company’s evolved paid parental leave policy (including removed gendered labels) as well as why they made significant investments into closing the gender pay gap.
On paid parental leave, more than one year on since the new policy was announced, Abbott said they now have an equal number of men and women taking parental leave. She also highlighted the surprising finding that 54 per cent of the new dads are taking the leave in one block.
Abbott has worked in diversity and inclusion for multiple organisations for more than 15 years, joining Lion in early 2021. Her drive to work in this space stemmed from her childhood and experiences feeling like an outsider as a child – particularly in having multiple surgeries and requiring splints to manage talipes. From the age of five, Abbott’s family moved to a psychiatric hospital where her father worked as a psychiatrist. “It gave me a sense of what these people felt like to be out of the mainstream, they were really rejected from society,” she says. “It gave me a really strong sense of what it felt like to be on the outside. And it determined my career trajectory in how I could then lean in and support people.”
Working at Microsoft in Seattle in the early 2000s, Abbott described an experience that shocked the company: the murder of a senior female employee by her husband, that saw Microsoft completely rethink its responsibility as an organisation for responding to domestic violence.
“The surprise, shock, and disbelief that someone from Microsoft would have been in a domestic family violence situation, coming to work every day and no one knew anything was a real eye-opener that this is something that isn’t socio-economically bound. And it can be happening anywhere in any organisation.”
At Lion, Abbott says one of the most significant changes they’ve made is in changing the language used to replace “violence” with “abuse”.
“I know it’s a small change but it actually is quite symbolic because it really does recognise that coercive control that we’re hearing a lot more about now. And it recognises that it doesn’t have to be a violent situation for it to be domestic and family abuse.”
Other adjustments include changing how leave is booked into their system, enabling it to be hidden under “special leave” associated with different forms of leave. Lion also now offers free emergency accommodation in hotels to those who need it, and loaner phones to anyone who believe their regular phone may have been compromised with tracking apps or other discreet tech that could put them at risk.
“These small things just add up for us to say we’re here. We care. And we’re thinking of other ways that we can support you,” Abbott says.
On the “First Responders” (also known as “tellable people”), Abbott says they are specially chosen to take on the role and commit to the additional training. The core group involved find the experience rewarding, and are typically touched to have been tapped on the shoulder to participate.
Overall, Abbott says it’s about being a company that is ready when someone needs the support, and not waiting for something to pan out in a tragic way before taking action.
“It’s important to be overt about the support provided even if you think no one needs it because there will be a person reading and watching you and thinking, “Wow! That is so good to know that I work for an organization that is here to help me’,” Abbott says.
“In most organisations of a relative size, you’re going to have both perpetrators and victims working with you every day and they’ll be looking for the signs and the symbols that you are there for them, that you support them, and that if in a time of need, your organization will step in and help you.”