Mettle Women

//Mettle Women

“Why didn’t she just leave?” Well, quite often she has already tried. Indeed, of the people who presented to specialist homeless services (such as crisis accommodation) due to domestic and family violence between 2019-2020, fifty-two percent had previously sought refuge. 1 in 6 Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by current or former partner, while 1 in 3 Australian women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15. Working as a journalist in Western Australian district courts and then as a Registry Communications Officer with the Department of Justice, Bronwyn Bate witnessed many times when the justice system failed survivors of domestic violence. She heard from CEOs of non-government organisations and frontline family violence workers who felt disheartened when they saw survivors of family violence in a situation of abuse once again. This solidified Bronwyn’s belief that there is something missing in the way people leaving dangerous situations are supported.

Bronwyn spent 2018 interviewing about twenty-seven survivors from diverse backgrounds. The recurring theme was that a lack of financial security left crisis accommodation as the only option. The women asked for assistance navigating Centrelink, assistance with employment, and assistance opening bank accounts.

With the knowledge gained from the interviews, Bronwyn devised a draft business plan, consulted the women a second time, and co-designed the social enterprise that the women would have liked to see exist. This ensures the program is built from lived experience, rather than solely academic research. Whilst Bronwyn does not condone overworking, she was working at two other jobs (including working full time) and trying to establish the enterprise with her savings.

“I am fuelled by incredibly courageous women, it is more of a privilege than a job and I have no excuse when I know women going through such adversity.”

Bronwyn co-founded Mettle Women with her sister Alesha. Mettle Women is a national gift delivery service staffed by women who are experiencing homelessness as a direct result of domestic and family violence. Bronwyn emphasised there should not be a stereotype for what homelessness looks like; in reality it is an experience blind to cultural background, religion, ethnicity, physical and learning ability, and socio-economic backgrounds. Mettle Women works to remove stigma as these women ‘are to be admired rather than judged’. Included in Mettle Women’s induction is reassurance that the organisation is a safe space  for diverse intersectionalities.

In 2019 the sisters opened an e-commerce store, with Alesha designing the website and e-commerce platform. The marketing,  accounts, procurement and design are all completed in-house. All gift boxes are comprised of vegan, organic, locally sourced products and use sustainable packaging. Buying a $40 gift box supports participants  with an hour of above award wage paid work and accredited training, free recruitment services, financial planning classes, access to study scholarships, legal costs, school uniforms and books, resume & interview preparation, resilience training, support in accessing affordable & safe housing and a child-friendly work space in which children can be with mum whilst they work.

Women holding gift

Mettle Women invites residents of crisis centres and to participate in a twenty-four week paid employment and training program. The participants (five to ten per cohort), who have been referred to Mettle by managers and caseworkers, have identified that they are ready to re-enter the workforce and have undergone a psychological assessment to prove they are ready. When people buy a gift box from the Mettle Women online store, the order is collated, filled and dispatched by women participating in the program. Through the program, the women are assisted to design an employment and financial security development plan. The employment plan lists participant goals, whether they require skills development and training. or food and financial support.

When these participants graduate from Mettle Gifts Employment Program, the organisation helps them transition into safe permanent employment with sustainable support. An example of the ideal employer is a discreet local family business whose values align with Mettle and which understand the security measures and safety plans which may be required.

Although the initial intention was to develop a profit-for-purpose organisation, Mettle was set up as a not-for-profit and registered as a charity. This made it easier to apply for funding and employ women immediately using grants and donations.

Particularly with regard to navigating the workforce, Bronwyn repeatedly heard:

“We wish there were employers who were empathetic to our circumstances who could provide us with meaningful employment, to enable us to take the next steps in designing a life we want rather than one that was prescribed.”

An East Coast philanthropist supported Bronwyn to apply for a grant so she could receive a small salary to start working full-time at Mettle when the organisation started to scale. This grant ensured that every cent of the social enterprise goes directly to the women.

For Bronwyn it is essential that Mettle Women takes a holistic approach to empowering these women: “We try to ensure the women have safe options and provide resources.”  They provide support by partnering with organisations which provide with childcare, counselling and psychological services. They also align with TAFEs and training organisations to teach the participants skills in administration or IT. In addition, Mettle enlists the assistance of interpreters for the fifty percent of women in each cohort who speak English as a second language.  Partnerships have been formed with support organisations to ensure participants experience a nurturing environment including the many with different learning abilities. These organisations work alongside Mettle to equip participants with the confidence and skills to re-enter the workforce.

Mettle assists participants to design an employment development plan, and similar to caseworkers, can provide additional support and act as their first main point of contact for the first five years after graduation:

“We have very intimate conversations with program participants – there’s no one size fits all so we need to work closely with them to understand the best way to support them. We’re never going to be able to completely understand their lived experience but sometimes they don’t want a fix, they just want someone to listen.”

They have monthly peer support meetings and the grassroots approach allows people to call Mettle directly for advice.   Mettle is looking forward to further scaling their impact and partnering with large national employers:

“We can refer people on our waiting list to work directly with them but still receive our support services.”

Bronwyn envisions a world where in every workplace induction, all employees are given the option to fill out a safety plan and every workplace has a designated safe room for people experiencing domestic violence. Currently five days of leave are available for survivors of domestic violence, however these days are unpaid. Bronwyn advocates for making these days paid:

“Court cases take up time and emotional bandwith and employers need to be flexible. In addition, there is a lot of admin involved in obtaining justice against perpetrators of domestic violence including mediation and childcare support, all of which takes time.”

To support the women of Mettle and the organisation’s wider vision, follow them on social media as awareness is key to its success.

Follow Mettle Women on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook or access their online shop.

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2021-10-31T16:40:46+11:00Support Services|