Malcolm Crotty, Russell McVeagh chair, has confirmed that the firm has received the report from the independent review conducted by Dame Margaret Bazley.
Crotty said that the Russell McVeagh board and partners fully accept the findings of the “incredibly thorough review.” The firm is committed to implementing all recommendations, which they have already commenced doing, he said.
The review found that Russell McVeagh handled the incidents in 2015 and 2016 poorly, which had serious consequences for the people involved. The incidents were “disgraceful,” Bazley wrote.
The firm had a “work hard, play hard culture,” which included excessive drinking and “in some instances, crude, drunken, and sexually inappropriate behaviour,” she said.
The firm’s response to the incidents showed failings in governance, structure, management, policies, standards, and systems. From the interviews, Bazley also found pockets of bullying, excessive work for junior lawyers as a result of poor work management practices, and fear among lawyers and partners about the potential consequences of speaking up.
The firm has apologised for the impact of the incidents about two years ago and revealed they have personally apologised to the young women who were hurt. It took great courage to come forward, the firm said, adding that their actions will result in meaningful change.
Below is the firm’s full statement on the review:
“Dame Margaret’s Review has been incredibly thorough and detailed. She has heard from over 250 people, including our people, former staff, partners and management.
“The Board and partners of Russell McVeagh are deeply sorry for the impact that the incidents of 2015/2016 have had on the young women involved and our people. We have apologised to the young women for the hurt and damage we caused. We recognise that they have shown great courage and applaud them for this. Their actions will result in meaningful change.
“We have made serious mistakes in the way we handled the incidents in 2015/2016. We sincerely regret that these mistakes occurred and they point to a failure in some important aspects of our governance, leadership and management practices, and in our culture. These failings have undermined our commitment to a zero tolerance of sexual harassment and bullying. This does not reflect who we thought we were or who we want to be. We will not shy away from the issues raised in Dame Margaret's Review.
“We clearly have work to do in order to change the culture of our firm. With the same determination shown by those who brought our failings and weaknesses to attention, we will address all of the issues raised in Dame Margaret's Review. As a firm we are committed to being defined not by our past but how we respond to the findings of the Review. We expect that the changes we make will redefine our firm's culture and work is already well underway on this.
“We believed we had a speak out culture and it is clear from this Review that we were misguided in this belief. We are committed to working with our people to create a true speak out culture across our organisation. We are saddened that many of our people, across both our Auckland and Wellington offices, have not felt able to speak out and in some instances where our people have, best practice has not been followed. We are determined to challenge every part of our management practice to ensure our people feel comfortable to speak out in order to ensure unacceptable behaviour is eradicated.
“Dame Margaret was not told during her review of any recent incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault or alcohol fuelled misbehaviour. However it is deeply concerning to the Board and partners that Dame Margaret’s Review has identified varying degrees of bullying in pockets of our organisation and our people being required to work excessive hours.
“We are dismayed that we did not know many of the things affecting our people and we should have known. Despite the circumstances that led to the Review being commissioned we are grateful that the terms of reference of the Review gave sufficient scope so that such critical issues were able to be bought to our attention.
“The Board and partners have already commenced implementing the recommendations from Dame Margaret’s Review. We are committed to consulting with our people as we implement the recommendations. Some of them can be implemented over a short timeframe and others will take longer. Work is already underway on all issues. We will commit to having our progress independently reviewed as recommended by Dame Margaret. In addition to this, the Board will provide a public update on our transformational change programme in the first quarter of 2019.
“As previously indicated, our current CEO is retiring at the end of the year and we have begun the search for a new Chief Executive who will have the skill set required to lead the transformational change that is required.
“We wish to thank Dame Margaret and her team for their professionalism and dedication in conducting this Review. The review process was exacting, independent and confidential.”
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