By  on September 26, 2007

NEW YORK — Domestic violence affects businesses through health care costs, absenteeism and turnover, and awareness of the problem needs to come from the executive suite.

That was the rallying cry from Liz Claiborne Inc. headquarters at 1441 Broadway Tuesday morning, as domestic abuse activists and chief executive officers gathered to discuss how to increase corporate awareness.

Claiborne ceo William L. McComb and Emanuel Chirico, chairman and ceo of Phillips Van-Heusen Corp., led a group of 10 top executives in signing the SafeWork 2010 pledge, committing as a company to address domestic violence. SafeWork's goal is to have 200 signatures by 2010.

The meeting discussed results from two 2007 surveys on attitudes toward domestic violence in companies, one directed toward ceo's and the other toward employees. The results were compared with studies conducted in 1994 and 2002 by Claiborne, which became one of the first for-profit organizations to join the cause in the Nineties with its Love Is Not Abuse campaign.

The survey found that more than half of ceo's in 2007 are aware of an employee affected by domestic violence, up 18 percent from 1994.

"Despite the fact that ceo's are more aware, very few believe that companies need to take a major role in addressing the problem," McComb said. "Ceo's are significantly underestimating the actual numbers of domestic violence victims in their companies. Although they are aware it is a problem, they do not see it as their problem — they do not realize that they are attending meetings, going over documents and having coffee with people that are impacted by domestic violence."

More than one in four women working for Fortune 1500 companies admit to being a victim of domestic violence. Among those surveyed, 80 percent of employees believe domestic violence harms productivity, compared with 55 percent of executives.

"Perhaps this is because employees are on the ground and see the impact at eye level rather than the lofty view of an executive suite," said Kimberly K. Wells, executive director of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence.

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