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Why the city of Cincinnati worked with Women Helping Women to better protect its employees

'Not every city in America is doing this'
Posted: 5:00 AM, Sep 18, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-18 05:01:16-04
Tighter security coming to City Hall?

CINCINNATI — The city of Cincinnati’s 6,000 employees can feel a bit safer these days.

That’s because the city has enhanced its policies addressing gender-based violence with the help of Women Helping Women and its WorkStrong program.

Women Helping Women used WorkStrong to help city officials examine and strengthen Cincinnati’s administrative regulation protecting city employees. The effort also included training city employees and department directors to recognize the signs of gender-based violence and help co-workers who experience it.

“Any workforce that size in this region, state and nation is going to be experiencing gender-based violence,” said Kristin Smith Shrimplin, Women Helping Women’s president and CEO. “What we’re really trying to do is empower our coworkers in the community to respond: 'I believe you. It’s really not your fault, and there’s help.'”

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Assistant City Manager Sheryl Long said city leaders were drawn to WorkStrong because it offers a tool kit for managers and employees in addition to the training the program provides.

The city regularly reviews policies and procedures to ensure they are consistent with best practices and reflect the world in which we live, she said.

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Sheryl Long, assistant city manager, city of Cincinnati

“Anything we can do to provide our employees with resources is always helpful,” Long said. “We all want to make sure that they have an environment where they can come to work and feel safe and do the work on behalf of taxpayers.”

The problem of gender-based violence enters the workplace in many ways, ranging from lost productivity to homicide, Smith Shrimplin said.

Gender-based violence results in $8.3 billion in lost productivity nationally, according to Women Helping Women. In addition, the agency notes that:

  • Almost half of all full-time working adults work alongside a survivor of intimate partner violence;
  • More than 87% of employees who experience sexual harassment do not file a complaint;
  • 56% of employees who experience gender-based violence are late to work at least five times in a month;
  • 25% of rape survivors lose their jobs within a year of an assault;
  • And 67% of people who experience gender-based violence report that the perpetrator came to their workplace.

“We know violence against women and girls and just gender-based violence exists. We know that,” Smith Shrimplin said. “What we don’t all know is that there are innovative, workable solutions that we can all have a piece in activating.”

Women Helping Women and the city hope to publicize their work together in advance of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“When you have one out of three women in their lifetime experiencing gender-based violence, when you have one out of four teens before the age of 18 experiencing sexual violence, when you have one out of three teens experiencing dating violence, it’s a public health epidemic,” Smith Shrimplin said.

“WorkStrong is part of a movement to really say it’s on all of us, whether you’re a corporation, a workforce, a government entity, a nonprofit, whether you’re a coach, a student, a campus — how are we all going to lean in and understand that absolutely, unequivocally gender-based violence is preventable?”

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Kristin Smith Shrimplin

Long said city leaders hope the city’s participation in the program will encourage other employers in the region.

“There’s a lot of people usually suffering in silence with this,” she said. “Things like this make people feel like they’re not alone.”

Smith Shrimplin said the goal is to reduce gender-based violence.

The city of Cincinnati also has committed to work with Women Helping Women in October for a social media campaign designed to raise awareness about the effects of domestic violence and gender-based violence both inside and outside the workplace.

“We don’t need to keep getting 11,000 calls on our hotline every single year at this agency,” she said. “Not every city in America is doing this, and I am proud of Cincinnati in being part of that movement to lead from the front and lead from the edge and say, ‘We don’t have to wait until there’s a horrific issue to put this on the map. We’re putting it on the map now.’”

More information about Women Helping Women and WorkStrong is available online. If you or someone you know is experiencing gender-based violence, you can call the Women Helping Women 24-hour hotline at (513) 381-5610.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.