How Employers Can Be Part of The Solution to Stop Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in the Workplace and Around the World

Open to All
5 min readMay 9, 2023

Work can be difficult for all of us, but some of our colleagues are carrying burdens we may be unaware of. More than 40% of American adults will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime. Domestic abuse alone caused nearly 2.5 million people (about twice the population of Hawaii) to miss at least one day of work within the past 12 months.

Gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH), including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and stalking, is prevalent in every workplace. The sheer volume of GBVH-related incidents necessitates intention, support, and critical thinking to determine how significant actions can be taken to make workplaces safer.

For over 30 years, Futures Without Violence has helped shape public discourse and transform the norms that have contributed to gender-based violence and harassment, all while working toward a future free of all violence. Open to All recently welcomed Futures Without Violence to engage with our corporate partners on ways employers can better support and protect their employees and customers from GBVH. We recently debuted an updated Inclusive Retail Toolkit, which contains free tools including videos, articles, and supplemental materials that continue to build on Open to All’s library of resources available to those who believe in the culture of inclusion and belonging necessary to being Open to All. The updated toolkit includes resources on addressing gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace developed by Futures Without Violence.

Education, employee engagement, and accessible policies are important tools for building safe, resilient workplaces and supporting employees to do their best work while living their safest, happiest lives.

Identifying Risk Factors

Workplaces must first identify the underlying risk factors related to gender-based violence and harassment. The retail industry, specifically, has a few exacerbating risk factors. Among them is the fact that retail employees tend to be younger, poorer, and more diverse than the broader workforce. Part-time and low-wage workers are more vulnerable to GBVH.

Stores should also consider the myriad of ways gender-based violence and harassment may be present in the workplace. One example is customer-on-employee GBVH, which might include stalking and domestic violence. GBVH amongst customers can manifest in a variety of concerning ways, ranging from in-store arguments to workplace shootings.

Inequitable power dynamics can create conditions endemic to harassment and violence between employees. Additionally, many of the tactics of power and control related to abusive relationships are often unintentionally replicated in the workplace. Supervisors have economic control over employees by determining pay, advancement opportunities, and scheduled hours. A proper checks-and-balances system must be in place to prevent workers from experiencing harm caused by their superiors.

Women and nonbinary individuals are significantly more likely to experience gender-based violence. Women of color, particularly Black and Indigenous women, are disproportionately vulnerable to GBVH. Violence and harassment are experienced uniquely based on the identities that a survivor holds. These same identities can uniquely increase risk factors of victimization, create barriers to support, and are often reflected in systems of power within our workplace, which can impact diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Engaging Employees

Engaging your employees and community members, who are actively participating in these settings, is critical to developing effective policies and practices for combating GBVH.

An employer’s main priority should be forming practices that center workers’ agencies and voices. Employee resource groups (ERGs) are one useful tool to do so. Employees in a survivor-specific ERG can speak openly and safely about their experiences. Companies can also approach the topic differently by creating an ERG for employees looking to fight toxic masculinity. Employee resource groups can host events to raise awareness while also informing companies on the necessary policies to protect and support their workers.

Regional and district store managers should also be encouraged to form relationships with local organizations dedicated to preventing gender-based violence and harassment. Businesses can ask these nonprofits for additional resources or to conduct GBVH training. If you’re unsure how to locate local organizations, Futures without Violence is happy to help identify nearby nonprofits.

Shifting Practices

In order to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace, companies must have fully comprehensive policies that cover the wide spectrum of gender-based violence and harassment. Policies and practices should not solely focus on survivors of GBVH but also on creating a workplace culture in which all workers can thrive.

Employers must consider the many supportive services and resources that survivors need. What accommodations are available to individuals’ experiencing violence and harassment in the workplace or at home? Do they have access to sick and safe leave? Do your paid leave policies include instances like moving or appearing in court due to GBVH?

If these policies are already available, businesses should ensure they’re easily accessible to everyone. Policies must be written in a digestible and clear manner, and must be available in a variety of languages. It is an employer’s responsibility to certify that all employees understand what resources are available, how the workplace will support a survivor if they need help, who employees should contact when in need of support, and what the pathway is to access help.

If a company is looking for additional support to implement GBVH-focused policies and procedures, they’re encouraged to contact Futures Without Violence, which offers training and technical assistance free of charge. From helping to solve specific problems, providing sample practices, or reviewing existing policies, Futures Without Violence is here to help! Contact ostorz@futureswithoutviolence.org with any questions.

Gender-based violence and harassment costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars in short-term productivity losses, retention issues, and lawsuits. More importantly, it costs individual employees copious amounts of joy, life, and time. GBVH is harming our colleagues, our partners, our neighbors, our customers, our friends, and our communities. We’re calling on companies to enact comprehensive and accessible practices to combat gender-based violence and harassment, safeguard their employees and customers, and create futures without violence.

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Open to All

At a time of deep divisions, we’re joining together from all walks of life and work to build a thriving and inclusive nation where all are welcome.