A report came out yesterday about Russell McVeagh’s toxic work culture. And it was a damning one at that.
The firm, which has handled legal duties for a range of Government departments, will be doing some considerable soul searching over the next several days as it comes to grips with the news that sexual harassment is a major problem in its offices.
So will the chair of Russell McVeagh, Marttin Crotty now apologize to the staff, to the legal profession in full? if he does, will he also step aside or follow as directed any recommendations made by the report of Dame Margaret Bazley who was assigned responsibility for investigating the claims?
That remains to be seen.
Action is inevitable if New Zealand’s legal profession wishes to avoid significant damage to its overall reputation. It is not acceptable to be enabling or giving the appearance of enabling the culture of behaviour that Russell McVeagh stand accused of. From groping junior female staff, to making sexually suggestive comments and gestures; from turning a blind eye to complaints of such inappropriate behaviour to suggesting that its the way to advance a career in law, clearly a major problem exists at R.M.
There might well be a culture of excessive drinking which needs to be curved, but that is not an explanation or justification for the abuse that has been alleged to have gone on. Drunk or not, it is not okay ever to grope or otherwise feel up someone in a sexual manner without their permission. It is not okay to make lewd remarks about a persons body in a professional environment.
And this is 2018. It is not the middle of the 20th Century. It is not a time when such behaviour was simply ignored, or a time when a whole profession should be able to behave as if sexual harassment is not an issue. It is a time when #MeToo is making people in nations big and small, rich and poor, wake up and realize that sexual harassment is a major and ongoing problem in the film industry. Will it be fully resolved in my lifetime to everyone’s satisfaction? Unlikely, but do nothing is not an option. It is a time that is long overdue.
No doubt the last few days have been hugely embarrassing for Mr Crotty as he takes stock of the cutting criticism. Sitting in a room telling the media with hand over his heart that there is not a sexual harassment problem, as Mr McVeagh first did in 2017, only to be found otherwise is hugely damaging. I sincerely doubt Mr Crotty did not know at least some of what was going on.
I will wait to see what happens, but my guess is that he will be made to walk.
But simply making the Chair walk might not be enough. What about the senior partners who supposedly knew better than to harass those female workers? None of them should survive this. What about the people who knew stuff was happening but failed to report it? Should they go as well?
But even if all of these resignations/sackings happen, will that clear out the toxic elements of the work environment? If not, then Russell McVeagh might be in bigger trouble than we thought.