We brought HR specialists & FV victim-survivors together. Here’s what we learned

The Sustainable Pathways to Employment Project is a groundbreaking WIRE project for victim-survivors of domestic and family violence. The project is funded by Commonwealth Bank as part of the Next Chapter program. The co-design process brought together the lived experience of victim-survivors and the professional expertise of Human Resources (HR) specialists. The insights from the co-design process have shaped the project in ways we could not have imagined.

Pathways to employment for victim-survivors of family violence are fraught. As awareness grows, more employers are eager to support employees experiencing family violence but victim-survivors still face many barriers to employment.

WIRE brought together two stakeholder groups – HR specialists and victim-survivors – to participate in co-design workshops to identify existing barriers to employment and identify strategies to address them. These stakeholder groups then came together to review findings, identify risks, gaps and assumptions, and develop a project plan.

This post outlines some of the key learnings emerging from the co-design process.

Recovery isn’t simple or complete

In the first workshop with victims-survivors, participants discussed the systems and processes of finding employment and how triggering those experiences can be when they are implemented without consideration of trauma.

Participants expressed frustration at the lack of understanding of the impacts of family violence, which last beyond the end of the abusive relationship. Participants explained how recovery is not a simple, linear, or complete process that happens automatically once they leave the relationship. They spoke of the ‘trauma brain’ and not always being able to digest information easily or to focus for long periods of time.

Participants also discussed the challenges of developing trust and confidence in themselves again. Some spoke of “going into interviews apologising” and struggling to communicate their value.

Victim-survivors have their own solutions

We were blown away by the resilience and resourcefulness that participants demonstrated. Each individual already had their own strategies for navigating these challenges and knew what needed to change.

Participants provided some creative and insightful strategies for how employers could improve their processes. Ideas ranged from including a phone number on a position description, to trauma-informed interview processes, gradual commencement of work when successful, and changes to the way interview rooms are set up.

Through this process we learned the value of both building job seeking skills such as preparing CVs and practicing for interviews, but also of rebuilding confidence, developing strategies for managing application rejection or conflict in the workplace and of ongoing connection and solidarity with those who have been through similar experiences.

Employers want to avoid ‘starting from scratch’

In the first workshop for HR specialists, participants from a range of diverse backgrounds told us about their strategies and supports for people experiencing family violence. These conversations were grounded in case studies that were based on the experiences of real people and challenges.

HR specialists highlighted a range of challenges, including the need for detailed disclosure to access supports and how to better design the recruitment process to make workplaces more accessible for victim-survivors. They wanted clearer guidance on how employers can practically improve their processes and to avoid ‘starting from scratch’ or ‘recreating the wheel’ by sharing strategies across employers.

From our work with employers, we learned that the priority was to make recruitment and workplace practices more trauma-informed. This could have impacts for all people who experience trauma.

There’s benefits to bringing both sides together

In the second stage we brought those on either side of the employment journey together in conversation. This was a space for victim-survivors to speak directly to employers about their personal experiences looking for work, and have that heard by people who have the ability to influence the process. Here, employers also spoke directly to victim-survivors about what they could do to make the process easier.

During these conversations, HR specialists expressed a deeper understanding of how they could support victim-survivors in their own work, especially in the recruitment process. They learned that simple strategies that signaled a workplace’s interest in supporting victim-survivor candidates — like including the availability of flexible work conditions in a job ad — made a huge difference to whether a victim-survivor felt comfortable applying for a role. HR specialists also saw great opportunities for improvement in strategies like sharing questions in advance, or setting up the interview room in a trauma-informed way.

Conversations between HR specialists andvictim-survivors challenged the need for disclosure of family violence to access supports. The discussion led to a project approach which would make HR trauma-informed where possible, and place boundaries around what disclosure is needed for what purpose.

These conversations created an opportunity for victim-survivors to use their negative experiences to create something positive for others. One participant commented: ‘I learnt that my voice matters, and that I am of value to my community… I left feeling empowered.’

The project 

The ideas from this co-design process are now being used to develop content for the STEP project, which will include:

  • A job preparedness and financial capability training program for victim-survivors of family violence
  • The development of standards, guidance materials and training materials to support employers to be more accessible to victim-survivor job seekers in their recruitment processes, and to be more supportive of employees who have experienced family violence
  • A mentor program that recruits mentors to meet the needs of individual victim-survivor job seekers

Keep an eye out for updates on this project, including how you or your workplace can be involved by signing up to our e-bulletin.

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