When Sarah Davies* reached out to Wesley Mission for help, her life was at a low ebb. She had recently moved to a new city with her young son and had few friends, and no regular employment. She felt hopeless – “I was looking at this giant mountain and I didn’t know how to climb it” – but a case worker saw her potential.
She suggested that Davies, who’d once worked in campaigns for an international software company, might be an ideal candidate for a “co-design workshop” at Banksia Academy, a nascent not-for-profit that aimed to get women, including those who’ve experienced family violence, into work.
I felt like I had a mountain to climb
And not just any work, either. The aim of Banksia – established by social entrepreneur Melanie Greblo – is to provide skills training, education, mentoring and support to propel women into jobs that are well-paid and financially secure. Once women have completed their training, they can take up flexible, work-from-home roles at Greblo’s digital services company, Scriibed, gaining vital experience and the confidence to aim higher.
“Many female survivors are supported to return to work in low-skilled, low-paid industries, such as childcare, aged care and hospitality,” Greblo says. “That’s not a bad thing in itself, but most of those women will still be living below the poverty line, even if they’re working full-time. By the time they’ve finished their day’s work and paid for childcare, there’s not going to be a lot of money left.
“I wanted to find a way to support women into flexible and safe work that they could do remotely and in their own time, and in a higher-paid capacity.”
Over several workshops, Davies worked with Greblo and nine women with lived experience of domestic and family violence (DFV) to design courses that encompassed everything from emotional intelligence and mindfulness to personal productivity and digital skills training. Davies believes the women’s involvement brought clarity to the project, as well as revealing their resilience after some incredibly traumatic experiences. If resourcefulness and problem-solving are some of the attributes desired by employers, these women have it in spades, she believes.
“It takes a lot of strength and a lot of courage to get out of these situations and who wouldn’t want a woman like that – who’s been trained up and is ready to fire in the business world – in their corner?”
Gendered violence remains frighteningly common in Australia. One in four women has experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner. Survivors often have complex needs, experience high rates of homelessness and face significant barriers to employment.
Having held founding and executive roles in social impact for over 20 years, as well as having lived experience of family violence, Greblo felt she was uniquely positioned to try to make a difference for these women.
It takes a lot of strength and a lot of courage to get out of these situations, and who wouldn’t want a woman like that?
“One of the great difficulties of surviving financially is the nature of DFV – it continues to play out even when you’ve left the relationship,” she says over the phone from her home in Sydney, where she’s occasionally interrupted by one of her three children. “And the barriers to employment are huge. There are the intra-personal barriers like having no self-confidence, no self-worth, the fact that there might be ongoing abuse. Then there are the societal ones, too – like access to childcare and transport – and the more structural inequities at play, as well.”
It was paying huge amounts for transcription services at various times in her career that gave Greblo the idea for Scriibed, which uses AI transcription technology, plus the skills of women trained at Banksia, to deliver a host of digital services for clients such as UTS Impact Studios.
“For me, Banksia Academy and Scriibed are about upskilling women so they’ve got choices and they’re empowered to fully participate in the digital space. Because once you have digital skills, the world is your oyster,” says Greblo.
To help support more women into paid work, Banksia Academy hopes to raise $25,000 through its #BackHerFuture campaign in the run up to Mother’s Day, a hat-tip to the 200,000 single mothers in Australia who have experienced domestic and family violence.
“The funds raised are going to support a seven-week program called Back to My Future, which starts on May 16,” explains Greblo. “In it, we’re talking to them about the beginning of a dream for their future and then we’ll create a really practical, tangible pathway with how we can help them get to that future. What sort of practical steps they need to take and how we can support them.”
Women come to Banksia Academy in two ways: they’re either referred through other social services or they self-refer. After completing initial forms, they’re invited to a Zoom call, where Banksia staff discuss the potential ways they can help. “Women can participate in on-demand courses or facilitated programs, such as the seven-week program in May,” says Greblo.
We’re talking to women about the beginning of a dream for their future
For Davies, the training courses are just one part of what’s a vital support network available through Banksia’s online hub. “There are courses on things like mindfulness and self-care but there’s also coffee club – you might be having a tough day and you can go chat with other women who have lived experience of DV and get a bit of relatability.
“And the mentoring is brilliant. It allows women – strong women who might have already done it all on their own and who are now in a [different place] – to help others up. It’s the sisterhood of it that I really love.”
Today, Davies works part-time for Scriibed and has rediscovered her self-respect and determination to succeed. “I love the flexibility of the work,” she says. “There might be 20 hours of transcribing a week but I can fit that around my son.”
In the future, she’d like to work again in digital marketing strategy and establish her own business. “I have run my own business in the past and I know I can do it again,” she says. “I want to provide security for my son and I want him to feel proud of me.”
Click here if you’d like to donate to Banksia Academy’s #BackHerFuture campaign this Mother’s Day
*Sarah’s name has been changed
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Photography by Joshua Morris