How could you not know about the harassment in your firm?
That’s the big question we have face up to. It’s not good enough we didn’t know – we believed we had a speak out culture, but this Review clearly shows we were wrong to think that.
Does Russell McVeagh have a culture of harassment?
The Review surfaced a number of harassment and bullying incidents, several examples where our people didn’t feel able to speak out and times we’ve failed them when they did.
It’s a grim picture, and while we can’t change the past we absolutely take on board the gravity of what’s happened, where we’re at now, and the task ahead of us to drive the change that’s needed. It’s a challenge we utterly accept.
Will heads roll as a result of this Review?
Right now, we’re focused on our people, and the work ahead of us on our firm’s culture.
As is well-known, Gary McDiarmid is retiring at the end of the year. We have begun a search for a replacement CEO who will have the skillset required to lead the transformation that’s required.
On all employment matters, these are difficult and sensitive discussions which are simply governed by privacy and employment laws.
Do you think your support of the victims of harassment was up to scratch?
We deeply regret the serious mistakes that were made, the systemic failure of our management practise and the huge impact it’s had on the young women involved in the 2015/16 incident and our people.
We’re horrified we’ve let our team down like this, and have committed to making sure this failure is not repeated.
Has sexual harassment been the only cultural issue? What problem areas has the Review found?
We’re deeply disturbed by the examples of bullying the Review uncovered.
Our mistaken belief we had a speak out culture in place, and not doing the right thing by those who did come forward is a massive failing.
That’s not OK, and everything is on the table now to make sure we put things right for all our people.
What recommendations will you prioritise? How will these be implemented?
Work is underway now to:
- Review our governance and management structure.
- Run intensive coaching on leadership for our partners, from independent experts with a clear mandate to drive behavioural change.
- Collaborating with our people to update our policies on alcohol use, sexual harassment and bullying. We need to align with best practise across the public and corporate sector.
We’ve started putting the recommendations in place – some can be done quite quickly, others will take longer.
How can your people, clients and the public trust that you’ll do what you say?
We’ve committed to collaborating with our people through this process. Progress will be independently reviewed with external reporting as we go.
Will you work with the industry to combat this apparent widespread harassment?
All firms will be focused on what they need to do, and we’re certainly focused on the task ahead of us to drive meaningful change.
We’re willing to share what we’ve learned, support the Law Society’s work to combat the harassment problem in our industry and play our part in solving this issue.
What was your reaction to the Law Society’s report exposing widespread harassment in the legal profession?
We applaud the Society’s honesty, courage, and leadership on this issue. It is clear this conversation is well overdue, and we all need to play our part.
We echo the Society’s call for the depth of feeling we’re seeing to be turned into action.
We thank everyone who came forward to tell their story, and offer our heartfelt apologies to everyone in our profession who’s been through harassment of any kind.
Why was the Review undertaken? Why did Dame Margaret Bazley agree to do it? Is it truly independent?
We called for this Review to ensure transparency, and to define how we’ve failed our people.
Dame Margaret's reputation and credentials speak for themselves. Her role in this review was entirely independent and she wouldn’t have accepted the role otherwise.
We're an independent, private firm, not a public agency, but we felt strongly we had to engage someone recognised and respected in the public sector that was beyond reproach, that could well handle the issues of confidentiality, to lead this review.
What materials did Dame Margaret Bazley have access to as part of the review?
Dame Margaret had full access to all current employees willing to take part, any past employees who wished to participate, and all files and notes relating to the incidents.
Why didn't you commission the Review sooner?
At the time, we felt we took the right steps and actions. The men who fell under investigation in 2015/16 left the firm after those investigations.
We were wrong – clearly, there are things we could have done better and we’re urgently addressing these now to make this the start of meaningful and permanent change.
Do you think Russell McVeagh is just a boys’ club that enables incidents like this?
No. Russell McVeagh has led the way on empowering women, working with many organisations and initiatives promoting diversity and gender inclusion, and we will continue to do so.
30% of our partners are women, and in some areas that number is significantly higher. Women represent the majority of our Board.