For most employers in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, becoming involved in employees’ personal lives is a delicate balancing act. When it comes to domestic violence, employers tend to consider it an off-limits, private matter. But Pittsburgh nonprofit organization Standing Firm is trying to teach employers that not only is helping an employee who is a victim of domestic violence the right thing to do, but there’s a strong case to be made for how such situations can affect the bottom line.
“We’re trying to make the business case for ending partner violence,” says Standing Firm associate director Susan Nitzberg. The Oakland-based organization provides training for managers and top-level executives, guiding them in what to say, what signs to look for, how to recognize both victims and abusers, and when to bring in an outside agency for expert assistance. “We want to get the employer community to feel empowered to take action,” Nitzberg says. “This is not just a women’s issue.”
Not only does that mean changing mindsets, but it also means changing the conversation, literally, she says. “When we refer to it as ‘domestic’ violence, employers think ‘it’s not my business, it’s personal.’ But we’ve seen the scenario time and time again where that violence has come to the workplace.” That can range from hours lost to absenteeism and lost productivity, to the tune of $727 million a year, higher health care costs, which can exceed $5.8 billion a year, and more seriously, to a partner showing up at the victim’s workplace.
“When she leaves, he might not know where she’s staying at night, but he knows he can find her at work,” Nitzberg says, adding that the research shows 85 percent of partner violence victims are women. “If a partner comes to the workplace, it can affect not only that one employee, but other employees, and customers as well.”
It’s that piece of the puzzle that usually motivates employers to find out what steps to take, Nitzberg adds.
Standing Firm will hold its second annual awards luncheon on October 22nd at the Omni William Penn Downtown. Kristy Trautman, executive director of the FISA Foundation, will receive the organization’s Champion Award, and the Pittsburgh Technology Council will be given the group’s Employer Award. The keynote speaker will be attorney Joshua Safran, author of Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid, which chronicles his family’s experience with domestic abuse. Safran was also featured in the 2011 documentary Crime After Crime, which told the story of his fight to free Deborah Peagler, a battered woman who spent 25 years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit.
So far, Standing Firm has 297 businesses involved in their initiatives. Nitzberg hopes to see new faces at next week’s luncheon, which is open to the public. “Some larger businesses have been harder to reach, but what we offer is easy to do,” she says. “It’s not hard to take action. And you can think you don’t have a partner violence problem at your company, but you don’t know. There’s no way to really know for sure until you get involved.”