However, the message from the women of Solomon Airlines goes much further, beyond the company to the broader community that times must change and that companies like their own can play a leading role in education through policies and consequences which makes it clear that violence and harassment in the workplace and at home should not be tolerated, a statement from the Airlines said.
It is more than two years since the airline opted to join the ‘Waka Mere’ Commitment to Action initiative which aims to promote better opportunities and supportive workplaces for female employees in the Solomon Islands and already positive change has occurred.
Launched in July 2017 at the Australian Solomon Islands Business Forum, Waka Mere is led by International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group in collaboration with the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI).
The initiative now includes 15 of the largest private sector companies in the Solomon Islands with nearly 6,000 employees combined.
Under Waka Mere, which means ‘She Works’ in pidgin, each company has committed to a choice of one or more of three areas: Promoting women in leadership; Building respectful and supportive workplaces; Increasing opportunities for women in jobs traditionally held by men.
“Waka Mere is about supporting women in the workplace, giving them the confidence and opportunity to shine, to progress, to take on leadership roles and also non-traditional jobs,” said Hernandia Zoleveke.
“We are very proud of the achievements and example of our female employees and company and hope that by providing a respectful workplace and greater work opportunities, this will lead to benefits for our staff, their families and the community,” she said.
Over the past three years, Solomon Airlines' female employment numbers have increased to 105 female staff together with 187 male colleagues.
The company has created new human resources policies related to employee welfare and workplace behavior.
“Wake Mere provided this platform and we made this commitment with our CEO’s support because we want to create a healthy and respectful workplace for all of our employees, female and male,” she said.
“This led to the development of new human resources policies regarding supporting employees who may be experiencing domestic violence at home or potentially unacceptable harassment in the workplace.
“We believe that our ‘Violence Policy’ in particular is a very important tool to address this issue and sends a message across all of our staff that any form of violence is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
“In any company, should a staff member become a victim of violence, their performance is likely to be affected which of course is a productivity a loss for an employer.
“In the past, we have seen staff who have an exceptional performance which has deteriorated due to an invisible domestic violence issue.
“Now with specific company policy and management support to address this issue, we are providing an avenue where victims of violence can come forward to seek help.
“Should an employee experience this issue they can come to the company in confidence without shame or embarrassment, knowing that their situation will be treated with respect and understanding.
“At Solomon Airlines we have also established a violence contact team comprising six members of staff from different departments.
“We are now much better equipped to support our staff by providing constructive advice and practical solutions.
“We can better support people through special leave, other reasonable assistance to maintain his or her performance while at work, referral to support services – we can assist to access available and appropriate support services in the community.
“From a company viewpoint, this means they are able to carry on with their jobs with the minimum possible impact on their productivity and at the same time we are able to support people as they work through such issues to a better outcome.
“Previously, we may have not known what was affecting an employee’s performance and may have made decisions that would disadvantage a victim unnecessarily.
“Under the program, education is also important. Previously it may have been that staff would think that violence happening outside of the workplace such as domestic violence is not the company’s business. Or that workplace harassment was to be tolerated as it could be too embarrassing to reach out.
“However having a company Violence Policy helps us all to recognise why we have a responsibility to help and why this is important for the business as well. It empowers employees to come forward in confidence and seek help or report an issue without fear.
“By creating awareness of the boundaries this policy has set, we can change mindsets and employees are more mindful of what they say or do that may hurt others.
“It is also important for all people to be aware that there are different types of violence so they are in a better position to protect themselves.
“Many may know about physical violence but perhaps do not realise that there are other forms of violence including emotional and financial abuse.
“Under the Waka Mere program we have engaged in workshops that especially help women to discuss issues affecting them in their personal and professional life and how they can best deal with these issues.
“We have been able to listen to inspirational stories from successful women who have made it to the top and to participate in professional development workshops to inspire positive personal and professional growth.
“Not only is this good for ourselves and our company, but it is also an example for the community. The more we publicly advocate against violence, the more people will realise that it is not right and it has to change,” she said.