Proctor : July 2018
5 PROCTOR | July 2018 As the entertainment industry continues to deal with accusations and allegations of sexual harassment, it becomes increasingly obvious that this purgative process is likely to extend through the spectrum of industries and, indeed, professions. The legal profession will not be immune, and already there are indications of significant change. In the United States, the New York City Bar ran ‘Sexual Harassment & the Law: A Call to Action for Lawyers in the Era of #MeToo’, while journalist Tracey Spicer told a Law Institute of Victoria luncheon that cases of sexual harassment were rife in the law. Perhaps the strongest catalyst for change has come from the New Zealand Law Society whose president, Kathryn Beck, has written to members with the results of their survey following claims of sexual harassment. She has described the results as “nothing short of disgraceful”. “As a profession, we must be ashamed and embarrassed at what our people have told us,” she wrote. “I am also deeply saddened at the situation we are in and I am sure many members of our profession will feel the same.” The results included: • Nearly one third of female lawyers have been sexually harassed during their working life; 17% in the last five years. • Two-thirds of lawyers who have personally experienced sexual harassment described experiencing some form of unwanted physical contact. • 12% of sexually harassed lawyers formally reported or made a complaint about the harassment. • 52% of lawyers have been bullied at some time in their working life. • 61% of lawyers who have been bullied at some time in their working life say the experience affected their emotional or mental wellbeing. • 42% of those bullied say they resigned from their job or it affected their career prospects. • 29% of all lawyers and 40% of lawyers under 30 believe major changes are needed to their workplace culture. Full survey results at lawsociety.org.nz. Ms Beck said the results indicated “a serious and systemic cultural problem in our profession”. “We are failing to keep our people safe, we are compromising their human rights and we are failing to treat all people with respect and consideration for the concepts of justice and equality,” she said. The NZ survey prompts us to ask whether we are doing enough to ensure that we work in healthy and safe work environments. Over the last 10 years I have been part of and seen the significant work undertaken in our industry on culture, particularly in many aspects of diversity and inclusion and gender equality. I know that many legal firms, corporates and government bodies are leaders in areas of inclusion in the workplace focusing on, amongst other things, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age and disability. Many have citations as employers of choice from the Workplace Gender and Equality Agency. From my experience, I would postulate that the amount of awareness raising, training and support resources we have invested to deal with stress, wellbeing and mental health is at global best practice levels. But culture change is complex work and old patterns of behaviour and unhealthy ways of interacting and working still exist, and we know that notwithstanding our great progress, we still have serious work to do in this area. The legal implications for both employees and employers are clear. In the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules 2012 (ASCR), Rule 42 specifically states that a solicitor must not, in the course of practice, engage in conduct which constitutes discrimination, sexual harassment or workplace bullying. Breaches of state or federal law in this area can lead to a complaint to the Legal Services Commission. (Under the proposed revision of the ASCR, the term ‘sexual harassment’ may be shortened to ‘harassment’ to ensure it includes non-sexual harassment.) The formal process for the resolution of harassment and bullying claims is also clear. The Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland deals with complaints made under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld), including sexual harassment. Initiatives like LawCare are ready to lend counselling and other assistance to both victims and perpetrators, but we need to change the way we work so that this behaviour is no longer acceptable. It is up to us as individuals (and in particular those in management or supervisory roles) to reflect on the ways in which we work to ensure that we create healthy, safe and sustainable workplaces. We must not be bystanders; we must be available to assist those who report instances of wrongdoing. There is still a stigma of not reporting poor behaviour for fear of consequences. This has to change. It comes back to how we interact as individuals, and that is a direct segue to our president’s column this month and his comments on civility and its critical role within the profession. I commend it to you. Rolf Moses Queensland Law Society CEO Our executive report #WeToo Are we ready for this? Do you have more to contribute to this conversation? Email me at email@example.com to share your stories and insight into how your organisation is dealing with this issue.