One third of female lawyers sexually harassed at work - survey

One third of female lawyers sexually harassed at work - survey
Photo credit: Getty/ file

One third of female lawyers have experienced sexual harassment during their career, a New Zealand Law Society survey has found.

The results of the survey prompted an apology from Law Society President Kathryn Beck who said it "wasn't good enough" it was unaware of the scale of the problem. 

Overall, almost one in five lawyers have been sexually harassed at work during their career. 

More than half of all lawyers have been bullied at work during their career, and one in five have been bullied at work in the last six months.

Nearly a third of lawyers say major changes are needed to the culture of their workplace, or 40 percent of lawyers under the age of 30.

"We must call a spade a spade - there is a cultural crisis in the New Zealand legal profession," Ms Beck said.

The survey, the first of its kind in the Society's history, was commissioned after a wave of allegations of sexual harassment at law firms surfaced in the media and on Zoe Lawton's #Metoo blog

"I absolutely agree that it was the victims that shone a light on this first," Ms Beck said.

"It wasn't good enough that we didn't know and I'm very disappointed that we didn't know the extent of the problem...as a Law Society we're really sorry." 

One third of female lawyers sexually harassed at work - survey
Photo credit: New Zealand Law Society

She said the results are "deeply saddening" and acknowledged the Law Society had not provided adequate cultural leadership to the profession.

"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," Ms Beck said.

One third of female lawyers sexually harassed at work - survey
Photo credit: Law Society

Almost 40 percent of those who were sexually harassed said it affected their emotional or mental wellbeing. The harassers were most likely to be the target's manager, supervisor, partner, or director.

Only 12 percent of those who were sexually harassed formally reported or made a complaint about the incident. Some felt reporting it was not required or they could deal with the problem themselves, while common barriers were a fear of the consequences or a distrust in the process. 

Green MP Jan Logie, Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice on domestic and sexual violence issues, said the results are "bleak".

"No part of our society is free from abusive, controlling behaviour. But it's especially concerning here because the integrity of the legal profession is critical to give victims of sexual violence confidence in the justice system," Ms Logie said.

"I echo Law Society President Kathryn Beck in thanking the women who came forward to bring sexual abuse in the legal profession into the open, sometimes at serious personal and professional cost. This took immense courage. Let's make it worth their while."

She said the Law Society needs to provide clear leadership to challenge and change the culture in the law profession to one that is inclusive, safe, and just.

The online Colmar Brunton survey was sent to 13,662 lawyers and had 3516 responses.

The survey results have a margin of error of 1.7 percent and the results have been weighted to reflect the gender makeup and location of the Law Society membership.

Newshub. 

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