In-house counsel key to framing violence against women as a workplace issue
Law graduate-turned-advocate Tarang Chawla said in-house counsel could lead the way in “dismantling” the culture around violence against women and positioning it as a workplace safety issue.
Ahead of his keynote address at the Corporate Counsel Summit 2023, Mr Chawla — a gender equality and mental health advocate — pushed in-house counsel to create conditions in the workplace where employees can seek support.
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“In-house counsel is often the first and only port of call for any and all legal issues in an organisation,” he told Lawyers Weekly.
“So, in-house counsel could play a leadership role in creating the conditions whereby people can seek support. While they are often not the ones to provide that direct line of support, they could create the culture whereby support is readily accessible.
“They play a key role in dismantling the culture around violence against women and understanding it as a broader workplace safety issue.”
This role is amplified by the fact that in-house counsel are trusted figures within an organisation, who offer solutions to issues on a daily basis. As such, it is incumbent upon them to act as trusted confidants and resolve issues on a day-to-day basis, Mr Chawla said.
“Given the prevalence of domestic and family violence in our society, this is a workplace issue, whether we like it or not,” he emphasised.
In a poignant keynote address at the Corporate Counsel Summit in May, Mr Chawla — an activist against men’s violence since the murder of his sister by her partner in 2015 — will share how the death of his little sister changed the course of his life.
Through personal anecdotes and data around diversity, inclusion, and equality, Mr Chawla will highlight the role of in-house counsel in tackling the scourge of domestic violence and why everyone has the responsibility to be a voice on the issues that matter to them.
In-house counsel the nucleus for change
In-house counsel is central to supporting other functions of their organisation to be able to implement changes, Mr Chawla said.
For instance, they could support management, the human resources department, and employees in allowing this issue to be framed as a workplace safety issue.
“They can also frame it as something that has an impact on productivity and an employee’s ability to complete their tasks and functions, as well as employee engagement and morale,” Mr Chawla suggested.
Indeed, PwC estimated in 2015 that if no further action is taken to prevent violence against women, it could cost the economy $323.4 billion over a 30-year period from 2014–15 to 2044–45.
“If we think about the effects of domestic and family violence from a financial lens of costing the economy $21.7 billion a year, then in-house counsel, as part of their broader skill set, plays a key role in embedding the right policies and processes to ensure that their workplaces are safe for everyone,” Mr Chawla said.
Failing to grasp complexity of family violence
When asked if society is failing women and children (who are the majority of victims of domestic violence), Mr Chawla agreed but added that it is also failing men who engage in violent behaviour.
“This is because we’re not creating enough of a cultural shift towards accountability,” he said.
“I think the law plays an important role in not only keeping women and children safe but also supporting men for accountability. But I think the law, as it operates and is currently structured, does not account for the complexity of family violence.
“It is often playing catch-up.”
To move the needle in the right direction, Mr Chawla said it requires a cultural shift in society that creates space for men who want to seek support and reform their behaviour in a manner that holds them accountable (without excusing culpability).
“This framework of accountability should also leave just enough room for growth so that they can, in future, develop better relationships, especially with themselves,” he said.
While doing work on masculinity and men’s spaces, Mr Chawla said he has observed that men who resort to violence are “inherently quite unhappy themselves” and have unhealthy relationships with themselves, regardless of how they present themselves externally.
He concluded: “This fundamentally requires a rethink that goes beyond the law. However, those who work in the law play a key role in effecting change at that broader level.”
Listen to Tarang Chawla’s heartfelt and moving presentation at the Corporate Counsel Summit 2023 about his family tragedy, how that changed the course of his life, and the role of in-house counsel in addressing domestic violence.
It will be held on Thursday, 25 May, at Sofitel Sydney Wentworth.