By Sarah Byrne

WHEN access to talent is scarce, investmenting in supporting staff affected by violence can go a long way to retaining a committed and effective workforce, according to Business Coalition for Women (BCFW), deputy chair Kevin Byrne.

Papua New Guinea’s need to address gender-based violence and gender inequality was a discussed topic during three days of conference and networking at the 32nd Australia Papua New Guinea Business Forum and Trade Exhibition (APNGBF) recently held in Cairns, Australia.

Mr Byrne stressed that in today’s challenging market conditions, companies cannot afford the cost of gender-based violence.

Recent research across three PNG companies found that nearly 10 per cent of staff time, both men and women, is taken up by family and sexual violence, Mr Byrne told an audience at APNGBF.

“This lost staff time was found to cost one of those companies over K 3 million kina each year,” he said.

In addition to the personal toll violence has on individuals, Mr Byrne said violence also presents a major health and safety issue for businesses and is a critical human resources challenge.

Anitua Group capacity building specialist and BCFW chair of the addressing violence working group, Dr Linda Van Leeuwen who also spoke at APNGBF, echoed Mr Byrne’s concerns, saying it is time for both business and government to take their heads out of the sand.

“Business and government need to reconceptualise gender violence as a workplace safety issue and start treating it as such,” she said.

Currently, many saw gender violence as a private matter, a cultural matter, and something that is too difficult to deal with.

While some PNG businesses and organisations have begun addressing gender-based violence, Dr Van Leeuwen says there is a long way to go.

“Business can no longer put gender violence in the ‘too hard’ basket. To not do so is simply bad for business,” she said.

Considering the downturn in the economy, Mr Byrne said it was important that companies implement gender-smart employment policies to improve retention rates, reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.

PNG’s BCFW has been developing and implementing a range of tools, policies and training to address gender-based violence for businesses in PNG.

Mr Byrne said the BCFW is in the process of finalising a toolkit to help businesses create an in-house mentoring program and a training program to promote business networking skills for women.

These programs are expected to be launched in June or July this year.

In addition, the organisation has developed an anti-sexual harassment model policy, specifically tailored to the PNG context, and is currently offering training for human resource professionals or other interested staff on how to implement the policy.

BCFW is offering this training in partnership with the PNG Human Resources Institute on a rolling basis throughout the year.

Mr Byrne said businesses should focus on gender equality as a business issue, because the evidence shows that addressing gender violence has real benefits for business.