Employment challenges often magnified for racialized women: Report

Spotlight shone on job sabotage stemming from domestic violence

Employment challenges often magnified for racialized women: Report
Premila Chellapermal

Besides the harsh realities faced by women who suffer from domestic violence, they also often have many tough challenges when it comes to employment, found a new report.

And when those unfortunate women are racialized, the problem is often compounded.

The report, Intersections between employment and safety among racialized women, was recently released by the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto (WomanACT) and it was the result of 59 surveys completed between Jan. and Feb. and 24 interviews with women.

“We realized that often in those abusive relationships, women are experiencing something that we call employment sabotage, that’s where the partner would actually harm the partner’s ability to work or be successful at work, and we also know that this phenomenon of employment sabotage treats racialized women differently because of the added impact of economic and employment inequality in general and the labour market for racialized women,” says Premila Chellapermal, project coordinator at WomanACT and the author of the 33-page report.

By conducting this research, insight was gained into some of the unique challenges faced by racialized women who go through domestic violence.

“It was important for us because we know that financial economic security is very closely linked to women’s safety, as well as empowerment, and so we need to understand how to support women, especially racialized women, to become economically independent,” says Chellapermal.

Online abuse remains a plague in many workplaces.

Violence affects employment

During the interviews, the issue of employment sabotage was explored, according to Chellapermal, “and how that violent relationship impacted employment and organizations and especially impacted their ability to find work but also maintaining employment as well.”

This stark reality is unfortunately nothing new but it’s something that needs to be brought more to light, says an Ontario labour leader.

“My first reaction is that this is something that we’ve known about for years and years and years, and this report really hits the nail on the head because of the findings, and we know that racialized women, immigrant women, are more likely to find themselves in domestic situations without the support that they need or without knowing what supports are available to them,” says Patty Coates, president at the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) in Toronto.

Patty Coates

But what is employment sabotage?

“That could be sabotaging their transportation before interviews, sabotaging childcare right before interviews, and 47 per cent of the women we surveyed said that they were prevented from working. That’s control that they weren’t even given permission to apply for or to find jobs, and then 49 per cent identified employment sabotage, so their efforts were somehow sabotaged or interfered with,” says Chellapermal.

Besides sabotage, safety is also an overarching concern, according to Chellapermal.

“For example, there’s one story where one of those interviews she loved doing work in the retail sector but because of the safety risk for her, she had to change; she had to work remotely.”

As well, ongoing trauma was cited as a top challenge, which again affected employment stability, says Chellapermal. “Seventy-one per cent of women we interviewed stated that trauma had impacted their ability to find work.”

A litany of prejudice was a part of these racialized women’s daily struggles, found the report as 51 per cent of respondents reported it has happened.

“They discussed a lot of high barriers in getting jobs because of the discrimination faced: they didn’t have the right accent after interviews, they didn’t have the right way of speaking, so that might have been appearing in the interview to be too bold or too shy, or they didn’t have the right look,” says Chellapermal.

A major construction company recently began to tackle sexual harassment on the job.

What should governments do?

Previously, Coates served on a provincial domestic violence roundtable, in which these issues were discussed and recommendations made on how to stem the tide.

However, when the PC government was elected in 2018, this was abandoned.

“There was a lot of work that was done at that table and realization and understanding of what was needed and unfortunately, when the current government came into power, they dissolved that table immediately, which is very unfortunate,” says Coates.

Not only the roundtable suffered, but funding has dried up as well, making the problem even more acute.

“Also, what happened was funding for the services that women may need domestic-violence shelters, that funding it took months and months, sometimes six months to even receive and throughout the years, the funding has decreased, unfortunately,” she says.

While these provincial supports may be currently lacking, that doesn’t mean they can be ignored, says Coates.

“We need to ensure that we have the appropriate services available to all women and that the services that are available are culturally sensitive; understanding of the culture, the language, and what is required because not all women can leave their homes. They need some support and financial support.”

How can employers help?

As part of collective agreement negotiating, many unions have provided an idea that policy makers in non-union shops can employ, to offer support without spending a lot of money, according to Coates.

“Over the number of years, the OFL has really pushed for our affiliates, the unions and employers to bargain and solidify in collective agreements, language that ensures that there is support for women. That there is time off for women if they were required to go to a lawyer or seek shelter or new housing, counseling to see a doctor and also accommodations within the workplace,” she says.

Employers can also help if they become places of refuge and safety, says Chellapermal.

“When the worksite was seen as supportive, it could be seen by a woman as a break, or safe haven from the abuse. It depended if the workplace had a culture of safety or they felt appreciated in the workplace.”

This begins with a simple way to become good allies and supporters, she says.

“Practice empathy, that was a major recommendation from women. Understand what they’re going through and be empathetic and offer empathy, and empowerment when you are giving support and also just listen to any suggestions of what would be helpful and work together with women and they will tell you what they need.”

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