Njabulo Mashigo on overcoming GBV stigma in the workplace

Vodacom recently announced its strengthened GBV policy to support survivors of violence or abuse.

In 2019, Vodacom was the first company in South Africa to unveil a policy to support employees who have been exposed to domestic violence or abuse either inside or outside the workplace. Now just three years later, the telecommunications giant has reaffirmed its commitment to tackling the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa, which has one of the highest rates of GBV in the world, by strengthening the policy.

Amendments to Vodacom’s GBV policy include ensuring that adequate measures and procedures are readily available to employees to deal with any violence, harassment, bullying, threatening behaviour, criminal conduct or intimidation within the work environment.

The technology company will also investigate and take action against any reported incidents of violence occurring outside of the place of work. This is provided that Vodacom is of the view that the incident is of relevance to the employment relationship.

Takalani Netshitenzhe, external affairs director for Vodacom South Africa, says, “Although GBV can often be less visible outside of the workplace, of those who have experienced domestic abuse, 94 percent say this has had a negative effect on their work performance. This is where we are taking a more comprehensive response to GBV by implementing internal procedures that aim to prevent GBV and support employees affected by violence in and outside of the work environment.”

Njabulo Mashigo, HR director at Vodacom, says, “The amendment of our GBV policy aims to ensure that adequate measures and procedures are readily available to employees to deal with any violence, harassment, bullying, threatening behaviour, criminal conduct or intimidation within the work environment.”

She adds, “We acknowledge that the workplace should be a place where our staff can be themselves, have a sense of belonging and feel secure. Any employee who is a victim of violence or harassment in the workplace, as well as any non-employee who is a victim of any form of violence or harassment by a Vodacom employee, may lodge a formal complaint with Vodacom. All genders could be complainants of this form of violence and harassment, including those who do not conform to gender norms or traditional societal expectations based on gender.”

Findings from the Domestic Violence and the Workplace report by Vodafone Group, released during 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children last year, revealed that in South Africa, 45 percent of workers say they have experienced domestic abuse from a current or past partner. The survey also showed that one in five were working in the same workplace as the abusive person, one in six said the abusive person stalked or harassed them near their workplace, or came to their workplace, and 14 percent said the abusive person went so far as to contact their co-workers about them.

Challenges and benefits
According to Njabulo, stigma was one of the key challenges the company faced while implementing the policy.

“A survivor’s willingness to report violence could be undermined by several societal and structural barriers including social stigma and shame, distrust of institutions, fear of retaliation by the perpetrator, lack of awareness and access to referral services, and in several cultural settings, high tolerance towards violence,” she said.

This was overcome through communication. “The visibility given to the issue through regular internal and external communications has helped to name a problem that is surrounded in silence and stigma, with profound effects and opening up new spaces for people to talk about domestic violence and abuse,” Njabulo explains.

Empowered line managers were another key factor for policy success, as line managers can help to change the culture around domestic violence. “With domestic violence rising, line managers can do something to build the trust between the employee, the management and the organisation,” she adds.

Practical workplace support is another notable benefit of the policy. These include:
• Ten days of paid domestic violence leave in any calendar year for medical appointments, legal proceedings and other activities addressing domestic violence
• Referral to an employment assistance programme (EAP) for counselling
• Rearrangement of work tasks
• Partnerships with domestic violence and abuse organisations to enable survivors to access specialist support and help improve manager training.

“These partnerships have helped to streamline referrals to specialist domestic violence organisations, for counselling, legal, housing and other support; for expertise in training line managers and HR; and to participate in and support campaigns and awareness raising in the wider community,” Njabulo said.

Inclusion, equality and trust

“Vodacom’s senior leaders have demonstrated a strong commitment to ending domestic violence and abuse, sending an important message throughout the organisation about the seriousness with which it addresses the issue for all employees,” Njabulo says.

She also advises CHROs who are considering a similar approach to GBV within their organisation to focus on training.

“Training has been crucial to policy implementation, ensuring line managers provide a front line of support for survivors. It has had a powerful effect on many line managers; some have gone on to support survivors in their teams, and others played a wider advocacy role in the community and in supporting friends and family members who are experiencing domestic violence and abuse,” she said.

Training has also been critical in helping line managers to understand domestic violence and abuse in all of its forms, including the impact of power and control, coercive control and economic abuse.

In addition, Njabulo adds, it is also important to develop skills to recognise the signs of domestic violence and abuse, knowing how to respond in empathetic and non-judgemental ways, and how to refer to specialist services, where this is relevant.

Awareness of intersectionality is crucial in ensuring effective and inclusive support for employees facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. The policy is embedded in an inclusive approach that recognises the support and security needs of employees affected by domestic violence and abuse, she notes.

Vodacom’s EVP
The company’s employer value proposition (EVP) was launched last year alongside the brand positioning of Further Together. It is anchored by the four pillars of Opportunity, Innovation, People and Impact.

“As a people-centric organisation we want our staff to be themselves, have a sense of belonging, and feel secure. As a purpose-led organisation, we want to make a difference to people, our business, our customers, communities and the planet,” Njabulo says.

Vodacom’s numerous accolades bears testament to the positive outcome of such an approach:
• Top Employer, for the third consecutive year
• Gold Tier ranking in the South African Workplace Equality Index (SAWEI) 2021, for creating and fostering an inclusive work environment for LGBTI people
• BP Top Graduate Employer 2021
• SAGEA Awards – Employer of Choice, Best Integrated Campaign, Best Digital Campaign
• LinkedIn Top 10 Companies.