30. 06. 2020 Corporate responsibility

BLF members’ networking meeting focused on the topics of pandemics and violence against women

On the 23rd of June, member companies of the Business Leaders Forum had the opportunity to participate in discussion with the association's president Richard Marko of ESET. The special topic of the online meeting was domestic violence, which was talked about by the invited expert Oľga Pietruchová.

The start of the quarterly member meeting included a discussion with Business Leaders Forum President Richard Marko, CEO of ESET. Due to the pandemic, he was able to connect live with other company representatives almost three months after his election. Despite everything, he also sees the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity. “Despite many negatives, the pandemic is an interesting experience. We are encountering something completely new. We have the opportunity to watch live what is happening in the world. Therefore, we should think about how we will respond not only as individuals but also as companies which have the power to influence many things in our country,” he said. Marko’s priority is to open a discussion within the BLF about the involvement of companies in public affairs and the need for strategic philanthropy. He added that after the pandemic, one of the most important topics will be the environmental protection.

Sharing experience of companies during the pandemic

The situation of the COVID-19 caused the postponement and movement of all spring activities of the Business Leaders Forum to the online environment. This also brought the opportunity to respond flexibly to current topics and needs of responsible companies. In March, the BLF members shared their experience with CSR during the pandemic. In April, the Charter of Diversity organised a webinar with useful advice on how to support staff working from a home office. In May, educational events under the title BLF Relay focused on topics such as employer branding, zero waste and carbon-neutral offices. On the Day of Diversity, companies opened the issue of age diversity and employment of senior citizens, through an online seminar. Following the loosening of the measures, one of the most discussed topics was the return of employees to the workplace. The BLF members shared their experience in this field during another online meeting.

At the quarterly meeting, Ivana Vagaská, Executive Director of the Business Leaders Forum, presented the activities on which the association will focus in the second half of the year. Such activities are the meeting of CEOs of member companies and the largest Slovak conference on responsible entrepreneurship, the BLF CSR Summit, which will take place on the 13th of October. The BLF will also continue in the dialogue of companies with the City of Bratislava, which has invited the BLF members to join the Bratislava greening programme called 10,000 Trees.

The topic of the meeting was domestic violence

 According to the WHO, one in three women becomes a victim of some form of physical or sexual violence at least once in her life. Domestic violence is one of the most widespread, but also the least reported forms of violence. It is in times of crises, such as military conflicts and epidemics, that the rate of domestic violence increases. This has been confirmed also during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of the ordered quarantine and domestic isolation, women had nowhere to escape, and the number of reported cases in the world increased sharply. In Slovakia, the number of criminal proceedings in connection with domestic violence increased by 49% in the first four months of this year.

Oľga Pietruchová, a gender equality expert and former long-time director of the Gender Equality Department at the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of the Slovak Republic, explained that domestic violence (such as physical attacks, psychological, social and economic violence) along with sexual violence and harassment, belong within the category of gender-conditioned violence. The vast majority of victims are women, although men can also be in this position.

There are prejudices in society that violence against women is a problem in economically less developed regions, which is a myth. “Violence against women affects all levels of society, the only difference being how women perceive this violence, how they experience it and how quickly they are able to get out of it. Educated and economically self-sufficient women can get rid of the abuser much faster and easier,” said Pietruchová.

Companies are not indifferent to violence against women

Responsible companies search for ways to help employees who have been victims of domestic violence, as well as to make this issue more visible by raising awareness or providing assistance to crisis centres.

The company dm drogerie markt has set up an ombudsman institute, whose task is to protect the rights and dignity of every co-worker. In 2017, the company launched the Rescue Network project – a team of psychologists who are available to co-workers (employees of the company) 7 days a week, 15 hours a day via phone calls and online chats. Last year, Up Slovensko financially supported legal advice for women in crisis centres.

In U. S. Steel Košice, they have been focusing on the issue of violence against women since 2004. They started with the financial support of an organisation which helps abused women. Later, they opened this often frowned-upon issue as a topic in their company. They focused on it in articles in the company magazine, through internal lectures and the emotional exhibition entitled Silenced Witnesses placed on the company’s premises. The exhibition showed mannequins of women who died at the hands of an abuser. “We try to motivate our employees to behave ethically and morally not only in the workplace but also at home. It is necessary to realise that the discomfort we experience at home significantly affects our working life, and vice versa,” said Ľubica Šoltésová of U. S. Steel Košice.

How can employers help?

  • Create a receptive environment in your company and provide the opportunity to turn to an ombudsman or a trustee.
    Domestic violence can significantly reduce performance at work – be aware of it, be receptive and provide support and encouragement to a colleague.
  • Provide a domestic violence victim with the necessary support, but call the police only if they wish it. If the victim is not ready to deal with the case, the police will not be able to proceed without her/his testimony.
    If the victim decides to talk about her/his problem, try to document the interview. However, keep it confidential and do not share the material with others. In the case of criminal proceedings, it can serve as evidence.
  • Provide domestic violence victims, who work for your company, with extra time off when needed. They often need to see a doctor, attend support services, take legal action or seek legal aid.
  • Provide women with a contact to the National Hotline for Women Experiencing Violence (+421 800 212 212) as well as other useful information (available at zastavmenasilie.sk).
  • Develop a contingency plan in the event of violent incidents. For example, in case a woman is threatened in the workplace by an abuser who endangers her and other employees.
    An employee does not have to be only a victim but also an offender – it is advisable to have a code of ethics in which this procedure will be incorporated, but also a programme for working with offenders.

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