Two and half years ago, Ben Davis was sitting on the couch watching TV with his wife when a news story came on that left him reeling: yet another woman had been needlessly murdered at the hands of her partner in their home state of Queensland. It was a tipping point for Davis, who had long been concerned about Australia’s domestic violence epidemic. “As a man, watching other men behave in such an inhumane way towards women and children is galling to me, and I feel sick when I see it,” says the father of three.
Davis couldn’t get the story out of his mind, bringing up the horrific incident the next day with colleagues at advertising agency McCann Queensland. “It dawned on us that a lot of the reasons woman are put into vulnerable situations is that they have nowhere to go,” he recalls. On average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before she finally leaves for good:
and one of the main obstacles they face is having nowhere to go. Domestic violence shelters across the country are struggling to meet the demand for their services. At the same time, hotels have an occupancy rate of between 35-80 per cent at any given time. “We thought ‘what if we could use those empty hotel rooms?’ The term ‘rescue rooms’ was coined and suddenly it became a real thing,” Davis says.
What’s more, the math for Rescue Rooms adds up: as many as 720 women and children seek a safe space from domestic violence every day, while 25,000 hotel rooms remain empty. Rescue Rooms aims to pair women in need with a caseworker who can assess the threat level and the help they require, and organise a safe room in a secure hotel for 48 hours.
Davis has spent the past two and a half years working relentlessly on the project, liaising with domestic violence charities, lobbying hotel boards, speaking at conferences, meeting with hotel chains and locking in partners in the shelter and triage space.
In 2017, he visited DV Connect at their Brisbane HQ, housed in a classic Queenslander. Inside was a busy call centre with 20 women answering constantly ringing phones. In the manager’s office was a whiteboard with a map of Queensland outlining the state’s 150 shelters and next to each one of them the word ‘FULL’ was written in thick red marker. “That was the moment that took my breath away,” Davis recalls. He has since vowed to not stop working on Rescue Rooms until all women who need a refuge have a safe space to escape to.
Despite being in a country where one woman is murdered every week by her current or former partner, it’s not been an easy mission. Davis has been met with hesitation from some hotel chains and accommodation boards, but he’s con dent that new leads and conversations will pay o . That’s why McCann Queensland has joined forces with marie claire, to help and a hotel partner to make Rescue Rooms a reality. “If we can get even one child or mother safe from being abused verbally, physically, mentally or sexually, through Rescue Rooms, then that would be the fulfilment of its purpose,” Davis says.
Davis considers himself a male ally to women, and believes passionately that we can all play a definite role in bringing about change. “Men should be advocates in solving this issue,’’ he says. “In 95 per cent of domestic violence cases, the perpetrator is a man, and I think if men haven’t been leading and helping, then it’s time they did ...they need to step into this problem and lead by example.”
DAN BOGNAR, 46
EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF SOLUTION ENGINEERING, SALESFORCE
Dan Bognar manages a team of 300 technical consultants across Asia-Pacific, with offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore and Hong Kong. Of his eight direct reports, four are women. “We have an equal gender split in my leadership team, but I haven’t selected leaders on the basis of them being female, I’ve selected them based on the fact that I think they’re the right candidate for the job,” explains Bognar, who has been an executive sponsor of the Salesforce Women’s Network for the past seven years. The purpose of the global network, known informally as “Femmeforce”, is to empower and invest in women, while also creating gender-equality allies – such as Bognar. “Gender diversity isn’t a women’s issue nor is it a male issue. It’s a human issue,” he says. Refreshingly, Bognar is aware of unconscious male bias and is actively working to address it within the company. For example, when the Women’s Network evaluated Salesforce’s recruiting process, they noticed male-centric language in their job descriptions, so they completely reworked the process and significantly changed the language to appeal to both men and women.
On a personal level, Bognar has “sponsored” many women throughout his career. “Sponsorship is more than mentoring, it’s about identifying talent and then sponsoring that person by actively promoting them through the organisation. I’ve become an advocate for many women and helped them progress in their career by explaining their value to key stakeholders and creating job opportunities for them to thrive in the company.”
Like Bognar, Salesforce practises what it preaches. It was one of the first companies to take a public stance on pay equality and has spent more than $9 million to correct the gender pay gap. They’ve also introduced a parental leave policy giving primary caregivers 26 weeks of paid leave and secondary caregivers 12 weeks of paid leave. “There are different ways to be an ally, but it’s about being prepared to listen to women and take a stand, show up and speak out when necessary,” says Bognar.
BRENDON GALE, 50
CEO OF RICHMOND FOOTBALL CLUB
When Brendon Gale saw the misogynist trolling aimed at AFLW player Tayla Harris after a photo of her mid-kick was published online he was absolutely appalled – but not surprised. “Unfortunately, it’s pretty nasty out there. I see a lot of keyboard warriors on the internet. What impressed me [though] was the strength of the reaction. It was stacks on – everyone called [the trolling] out,” recalls Gale, who has been the CEO of Richmond Football Club for almost a decade, and played a significant role in supporting and launching the club’s AFLW team.
Gale became a member of the Male Champions of Change (MCC) organisation in 2015 and served on the Board of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission from 2009-2013, advocating for equality – on and off the field. Earlier this year, the MCC released a report on the gender pay gap between elite athletes. In it, Gale said, “Every leader involved in sport has a role advancing gender equality, pay equity and sustainable pay equality in the sector. By understanding and measuring these issues, we are better able to dismantle the barriers to progress".
As well as being an important advocate for change, Gale has introduced practical policies to help the women in his team of 113. There’s a sponsorship program for mentoring female talent and a company-wide flexible work policy.
Reflecting on the significant changes in the league since he was a player in the ’90s, Gale says, “we have [now] got an exciting women’s competition, prominent [female] leaders in clubs and supportive environments that are increasingly intolerant of ignorance.”
The end goal? “I think the hope is that there’s not a differentiation between men’s and women’s football: it’s just football.”
This article originally appeared in the July issue of marie claire.