Organisations and sectors remain in spotlight on workplace harassment and assault

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With ongoing public attention on sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, organisations and sectors remain in the spotlight.

In May, the Government released the report from an independent review of the Human Rights Commission. The Law Society also released results from an independent survey of the legal profession.

Human Rights Commission

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) is the national body responsible for handling enquiries and complaints about discrimination and racial and sexual harassment issues, among other activities to protect and promote human rights.

In February, Justice Minister Andrew Little ordered a review of the procedures and organisational culture at the HRC after an intern was sexually harrassed/assaulted by a senior employee at a work party and concerns were raised about the process that followed. The independent review was conducted by retired Judge Coral Shaw.

The Government published the report from the review, Ministerial Review of the Human Rights Commission in relation to the internal handling of sexual harassment claims and its organisational culture (2018). The review examined internal processes for handling claims, governance and management structures that support these processes, and organisational culture. For each area the report details conclusions and recommendations.

In the Executive Summary, Judge Coral Shaw noted "... the HRC should be an exemplar employer in relation to matters of human rights violations in its own workplace." The review reported that "some sexual harassment has occurred within the HRC, but it is not prevalent or endemic." A range of organisational issues emerged from the review.

In relation to processes for handling claims, it was found that the 2009 policy applied to the recent incidents was outdated, not specific to sexual harassment, not known among staff and not correctly followed. There was a lack of human resource support. While the HRC has updated their policy and processes, staff were not adequately involved in the update process.

In relation to governance and management structures, it was found that staff members lacked information and did not trust management to deal with complaints. In addition "there is a deep divide between some staff and some managers and a lack of trust in the management and the Commissioners among some staff." The report states "strategic leadership by the current Board is compromised by a lack of cooperation and communication between Commissioners and between Commissioners and the Chief Executive."

In relation to the organisational culture, the structure of the HRC was found to be problematic. Despite this, it meets its national and international responsibilities and maintains a good reputation as a champion of human rights in New Zealand. The report notes there has been a chronic lack of resources due to a long-term government cap on funding. Specifically, the report states "... the Chief Executive cannot operate effectively given the structure, the lack of a unified Board, and resource constraints."

The report outlines 31 recommendations. Of those, 25 relate to the governance and management structure and the organisational culture. The recommendations cover a range of actions:

  • Review of polices and staff involvement in this process
  • Board and Commissioner responsibilities
  • Consideration of an external professional support service for internal complaints
  • Staff and management relationships including the Board, Chief Executive and Commissioners
  • Examining the role, training, support, recruitment, and appointment of the Commissioners.

Minister Little said:

“It is vital that New Zealanders have trust and confidence in the Human Rights Commission as New Zealand’s authority for dealing with complaints about sexual harassment. I am currently awaiting advice form the Ministry of Justice. I will also meet with the State Services Commission today to discuss the next steps to fulfil the report’s recommendations. I have spoken to all Commissioners and the CEO, and I will now deal with the question of Commissioner appointments, as a matter of priority.”

The HRC said it accepts the recommendations in the report and was working to address some of the recommended changes. Listen to comments from Minister Little about the release of report. For additional commentary see the media links below.

Dame Susan Devoy published an article in response to the review findings. She praised the hard work of the staff and said:

"I can only speak on my own behalf to say that I am devastated and deeply sorry that we failed to protect, support and nurture the commission’s most important asset: our people. The things our people endured should never have happened in any organisation, let alone ours."

"... it’s time to step back and reflect on what’s happened and how we can make sure it never, ever happens again. I hope that other boards and management groups read the ministerial review into the commission as there are things to learn from what our staff went through."

The senior employee who the complaint was against remains employed by the Human Right Commission with some disciplinary action being taken.

HRC announced that Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue and Chief Commissioner David Rutherford have decided to not seek reappointment. Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero has been appointed acting head of the Human Rights Commission until new appointments are made. 

Update: Justice Minister Andrew Little has announced a panel to recruit new Human Rights Commissioners.

Law Society survey

The Law Society commissioned Colmar Brunton to carry out a survey of more than 13,000 lawyers in New Zealand about workplace environments in the legal profession. The survey is part of a number of actions the Law Society is taking to address sexual harassment in the profession after media highlighted serious issues of sexual harassment and assault.

Results from the survey have been published in a report. Just over 3,500 lawyers completed the survey on general stress and wellbeing, sexual harassment and bullying. The survey found that:

  • 31% of women and 5% of men have been sexually harassed during their working life
  • 28% of lawyers have witnessed sexual harassment in a legal environment during their working life
  • 52% of lawyers have ever experienced bullying, with levels higher among Māori, Pacific, and Asian lawyers
  • 29% feel major changes are needed to the culture of their workplace (40% for lawyers age under 30 years).

In response to the survey, Law Society President Kathryn Beck said the results showed there is a "cultural crisis in the New Zealand legal profession". She said:

"This is about the legal profession. New Zealanders expect our profession to operate to the highest standards of integrity with a commitment to fairness, equity and justice. This survey makes it crystal clear that we are not meeting that expectation, we are failing to keep our own people safe and we cannot stand for this."

Kathryn Beck also said:

"I'm disappointed that this research is a surprise to us. I'm disappointed we heard about so much through the media. I'm disappointed that, for whatever reason, people chose not to report their experiences to us. I'm disappointed that for so many people, the law has not been a safe profession."

For more information about issues with sexual harassment in the legal profession see our previous story Spotlight remains on legal profession's responses to harassment, abuse and assault.

Update: The Law Society is seeking expressions of interest from lawyers to participate in a task force on system and culture change in the legal profession.  

Update: The newly created independent Working Group established by the Law Society and chaired by Dame Silvia Cartwright is seeking ideas on how the complaints regulatory framework could be improved. 

Other organisations responding to harassment and abuse

Auckland Women's Centre hosted a panel on the #MeToo campaign (video recording can be viewed on Facebook). Shakti Youth hosted a YouthToo Panel: Culture, Identity and Feminism.

For information about other organisational responses see our previous stories on NZ Rugby and the NZ Defence Force. Also see our story on Sexual harassment and assault highlighted on International Women's Day for information about the #metoo and #togetherinblack campaigns.

The NZ Herald has reported findings from an independent report investigating how the Air Force responded to historic sexual abuse, harassment and bullying complaints. The NZ Defence Force released the report to the NZ Herald under the Official Information Act.

Following sexual harassment and assault occurring at a Labour summer camp, the Labour Party announced an independent review of their policies and procedures. The review is currently being conducted.

Media outlet Stuff has previously reported that Women's Minister Julie Anne Genter said the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment would begin collating data on complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. Details have also been reported about further Government plans to address workplace sexual harassment.

See the media links below for other organisations' internal reports and responses to sexual harassment.

Related resources and research

A new resource from the US provides brief general guidance for all levels of management and employees on addressing sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse in the workplace. The guidance is presented in the form of open letters. There are four different letters to CEOs and board of directors; human resource executives staff; managers and supervisors; and employees. The resource has been developed by a sexual violence prevention agency in partnership with human resource consultants.

Gender Equal NZ recently published results from the first survey of gender attitudes in Aotearoa New Zealand. The survey found that while 79% of New Zealanders agreed gender equality is a human right, some people still hold strong ideas about gender roles that can contribute to gender inequality.

Promundo, a global agency working on gender justice and violence prevention, has published a new research brief on toxix masculinity and sexual abuse. The brief, Unmasking Sexual Harassment: How Toxic Masculinities Drive Men’s Abuse in the US, UK, and Mexico and What We Can Do to End It (2018), shares results from a survey of more than 1,000 young men each in the US, UK, and Mexico. The researchers explored young men’s views about manhood and sexual harassment. Also see their detailed report, Masculine Norms and Violence: Making the Connections (2018).

Selected media

ANZ trader was grilled over her rape as part of US sexual harassment case, Stuff, 08.08.2018

Victoria University lecturer: no pathway for sexual misconduct victims, Stuff, 08.08.2018

Editorial: Institutions slow learners on sexual issues, Stuff, 07.08.2018

Victoria University accused of bungling sexual harassment complaint against chemistry tutor, Stuff, 06.08.2018

Victoria University accused of failing multiple sexual harassment complainants, Newshub, 06.08.2018

Panel to recruit new human rights commissioners announced, Te Karere TVNZ, 16.07.2018

Little tries to take politics out of human rights picks, Waatea News, 16.07.2018

Govt to collect workplace sexual harassment data, Radio NZ, 02.07.2018

MBIE starts collecting data on workplace harassment, Stuff, 02.07.2018

Māori, Pasifika lawyers face racism, bullying - survey, Radio NZ, 02.07.2018

Women lodge complaint against Russell McVeagh, Stuff, 29.06.2018

Speaking Secrets: Sexual abuse services bracing for influx, NZ Herald, 25.06.2018

Lawyers invited to participate in international bullying and sexual harassment survey, NZ Law Society news, 25.06.2018

4. Did the Law Society do enough?, Newsroom Pro, 06.06.2018

'A lot of anger' around Law Society report, Stuff, 04.06.2018

Her boss drew sketches of her while she worked. When she complained, HR said he had a 'knack for it', Stuff, 03.06.2018

Alison Mau: How much proof does Law Society need of sex pests in ranks?, Stuff, 03.06.2018

Law Society hit with a double whammy of accusations in the wake of sexual abuse and harassment survey, Stuff, 02.06.2018

Legal profession must stop sexual harassment and bullying in its ranks, Beehive Press Release, 01.06.2018

Legal workplaces sign up to Gender Equality Charter - what are you waiting for?, Law Society media, 31.05.2018

Legal profession must stop sexual harassment and bullying, Press Release: New Zealand Government, Scoop, 30.05.2018

Widespread harassment, bullying and racism identified within the law profession, Stuff, 30.05.2018

One in five NZ lawyers sexually harassed, Law Society survey finds, NZ Herald, 30.05.2018

One third of female lawyers sexually harassed at work - survey, Radio NZ, 30.05.2018

Lawyers' sexual harassment 'worst kept secret' for decades, former lawyer says, Stuff, 30.05.2018

‘Devastated but vindicated’: Devoy issues powerful rebuke as she exits Human Rights Commission, The Spinoff, 27.05.2018

Dame Susan Devoy says HRC staff should not have had to endure what they went through, Stuff, 27.05.2018

PSA: Human Rights Commission treatment of staff 'appalling', Newshub ZB, 26.05.2018

Drop the politics from human rights, Newsroom, 24.05.2018

Changes likely at ‘toxic’ Human Rights Commission, Newsroom, 16.05.2018

Alison Mau: After Human Rights Commission harassment scandal, how can victims trust the process?, Opinion: Alison Mau, Stuff, 16.05.2018

HRC report: 'Deep divide' between staff and managers, Radio NZ, 16.05.2018

Sexual harassment at Commission, but 'not endemic', Radio NZ, 16.05.2018

Analysis: The road to the truth about the Human Rights Commission, Stuff, 15.05.2018

'Access to justice is being denied to almost all': Human Rights Review Tribunal chairman Rodger Haines, Stuff, 25.02.2018

'Fundamental flaws' in handling of sexual harassment case at HRC, Radio NZ, 22.02.2018

Mishandling concerns spur review into Human Rights Commission, Radio NZ, 21.02.2018

Related media

Man faces four charges of indecent assault at Labour Party summer sex camp, NZ Herald, 26.06.2018

Young female doctors speak about sexual harassment in New Zealand hospitals, NZ Herald, 23.06.2018

World-first national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment, Press Release: Australian Human Rights Commission, 20.06.2018

Harassment in hospo industry revealed in research, Radio NZ, 11.06.2018

Kāpiti councillor convicted of sexual assault says he was set up, 24.05.2018

Uni Association investigated allegations staffer sent penis pics to sexual violence workers, Stuff, 23.05.2018

Wellington City Council praised for plan to stamp out sexual assaults in the city, Stuff, 23.05.2018

A plea to end sexual violence, Māori Television, 23.05.2018

Walk the talk in ending sexual violence, Press Release: ActionStation, Scoop, 23.05.2018

Education Council reveals the number of teachers disciplined for sexual misconduct, Stuff, 22.05.2018

No apology from councillor accused of being 'heavy handed' over prevention of sexual violence in Wellington, Stuff, 22.05.2018

Wellington councillor fights for action on sexual assault, Radio NZ, 22.05.2018

'There shouldn't be any grey areas around this', Radio NZ, 06.05.2018

NZ bar staff being trained to spot behaviour that leads to sexual assault, Stuff, 30.04.2018

Uni to open sex assault support centre, Otago Daily Times, 20.04.2018

UN Women appoints Purna Sen as Executive Coordinator and Spokesperson on Addressing Sexual Harassment and Other Forms of Discrimination, Press Release: UN Women, 11.04.2018

Hospitality workers join #MeToo movement to counter sexual harassment, NZ Herald, 20.03.2018

Labour Party Youth Camp, Press Release: Toah-Nnest, Scoop, 20.03.2018

Labour Party review of sexual assault handling to take up to three months, Stuff, 19.03.2018

Summer camp fallout: Outline for Labour Party review released, NZ Herald, 19.03.2018

If you think #MeToo's gone too far, you're still not listening, Opinion: Tess Nichol, NewstalkZB, 19.03.2018

#MeToo sees surge in Kiwi women seeking help, NZ Herald, 18.03.2018

Dr Pani Farvid: Sick of not having a voice and not being heard? #MeToo, NZ Herald, 17.03.2018

Unprecedented demand for HELP as sexual assault in the spotlight, Opinion: Conor Twyford, HELP Wellington, Stuff, 16.03.2018

NZ’s failure on sexual misconduct is much, much bigger than any one case, Opinion: Catriona MacLennan, The Spinoff, 15.03.2018

‘Go to the police and tell your parents’: A sexual assault survivor’s story, The Spinoff, 15.03.2018

Increase in sexual assault allegations shows shift in culture, survivors able to come forward, says charity, One News, 14.03.2018

Phil Gifford: Sorry gents, but the era of ogling women at sports events is over, Opinion, Stuff, 03.02.2018

NZ Rugby launches 0800 line for complaints about inappropriate behaviour, Stuff, 25.01.2018