MediaWorks report: 'Boys' Club' culture, sexual assault, harassment

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied
Six allegations of sexual assault, a harmful "boys' club" culture, bullying and harassment have been uncovered after a MediaWorks review was made public today.

Maria Dew QC released an executive summary of her findings after speaking with 125 former and current staff of MediaWorks.

The employer acknowledged it failed to "respond adequately to complaints of misconduct".

The review also revealed a senior MediaWorks employee engaged in sexual activity with a young woman after she was served drinks at a promotional event.

"Almost all interview participants raised concerns about certain negative behaviour impacting MediaWorks culture," Dew said.

Dew found most review participants believe that a very dominant "Boys' Club" has been in play for many years within MediaWorks.

"There was a strong theme that emerged from both female and male participants that the Boys' Club culture is harmful in various ways. They see this Boys' Club promoting and/or being tolerant of behaviour that is holding MediaWorks back from being a more modern workplace. The most common examples given were on-going sexist and racist behaviours, repeated minimising of sexual harassment, failure to promote greater gender diversity, the misuse of alcohol and drugs and the lack of accountability for poor behaviour."

The findings of the Dew report were delivered to MediaWorks staff today by CEO Cam Wallace, who was not at the company at the time of the various incidents and allegations. Many staff were reportedly in tears as Wallace delivered the findings and several apologies.

Four separate matters were referred from the Dew report for independent employment investigation, these have now commenced or are already completed.

Included in this is allegations of illegal drugs at a MediaWorks function, bullying and pressure to perform unpaid work, harassment by a work colleague and a Inappropriate workplace relationship between a senior male and a junior female team member.

Dew wrote that she had referred two further matters to MediaWorks to commence independent employment investigations, these involve alleged sexist and bullying conduct as well as sexual harassment by a work colleague.

The report recommended MediaWorks provide an apology and make amends to the young female guest for the failure to keep her safe at the 2019 Promotional Event and for its handling of her complaint after the event.

The reports of sexual harassment and sexist behaviours were "relatively high", Dew said in both the interviews and results of a survey which 480 staff took part in. Dew said the survey results showed that 26 per cent of female and 17 per cent of male survey participants "had witnessed some form of sexual harassment in the last three years".

The survey also revealed 18 per cent of female survey participants had personally experienced some form of sexual harassment.

"The conduct described by interview participants disturbingly included four serious allegations of sexual assault on females in the last three years and two historic sexual assault allegations. In each case, the female reported that either it was not dealt with adequately by MediaWorks at the time or they did not feel safe to make a complaint," Dew said.

Dew said there were "common themes" among the six people who made serious allegations of sexual harassment or harm while at the company or company events. These included:

• A senior older male making unwanted physical advances towards a younger female at an event where alcohol was involved

• The young female being left with a sense of not being protected by MediaWorks where the company was responsible for their health and safety

• They reported either having no confidence that their complaint would be taken seriously, or if they had raised their complaint, MediaWorks did not act appropriately.

Two people interviewed criticised the "Boys' Club" they said existed at the company.

"You see a lot of this. No female is given a leg up. There is an attitude of 'you are one of the sons or you're not'. There is the inner-circle and females don't get let into that circle," one interviewee said.

"Yes, it was a Boys' Club. I was disturbed at the way younger women were talked to. They were not given the same opportunities as males," a former employee told Dew.

Participants who reported the 'Boys' Club' sentiment generally referred to a set of male senior management who they saw as favouring males for appointment and progression and protecting other men from the consequences of misconduct.

The misconduct included drunken behaviour at work events, acceptance of drug-taking, bullying behaviour and inappropriate workplace relationships with younger females.

Many participants referred to this as conduct that was "swept under the carpet," Dew said.

Dew said that interviewees told her that sexist comments at MediaWorks included the following:
• "Only hire hot," referring to female applicants for roles.

• "Boys, this is why you don't hire mums."

• "There are constant gross comments made by men while working promos. Derogatory language like 'slut ' and 'hoe' is used in the office."

Dew said "younger females reported that the older or more senior males did not appreciate that the 'smile of acceptance' at work or the 'friendly reply' on social media is not encouragement. It is more often that the junior female is unable to rebuff the offensive or uncomfortable conduct, as they do not want to risk offending the senior male who may hold influence over their role at work."

Interviewees alleged to Dew alleged that "sexist comments and conduct cause a lack of progression for women, particularly in the radio brands part of MediaWorks.

Dew said that these included:

• Manager comments that they cannot have a radio show with two female announcers and only one male because "the show will be too bitchy" or "Don't hire a female as she'll get knocked up in five minutes."

"Many participants came into the Review with fears for their career. They were extremely concerned to ensure that certain managers or employees within MediaWorks did not find out about their involvement in the review. This concern was sadly expressed repeatedly as the commercial radio industry in New Zealand is relatively small, and the choice of alternative employers is limited," Dew said in her report.

"The harmful aspects of the MediaWorks culture cannot be denied or minimised by the leadership of MediaWorks. There is simply too much evidence...," Dew said.

Dew said 45 per cent of females surveyed and 34 per cent of males have witnessed some form of bullying.

"While the reports of bullying were high, it appears to mainly relate to specific managers or senior employees in the Radio Brands and Sales teams. This was reported as behaviour that has gone unchecked by MediaWorks on the basis that 'that is just how they are' or 'that's just radio'," she said.

The report says "only a small group of MediaWorks employees came forward ... to say they did not see anything wrong with the culture. They believed it was only a small number of disgruntled staff complaining on social media or in this review. These participants were generally MediaWorks managers (mostly male but some female also) who had been with the business for many years and generally saw those few unhappy people as not 'cut out' for the industry.

"I acknowledge these employees may have difficulty recognising the problematic culture described in this Report . However, the harmful aspects of the MediaWorks culture cannot be denied or minimised by the leadership of MediaWorks."

"While challenging and uncomfortable for some, this review and a change in culture is seen as long overdue by the majority of those that came forward," the executive summary says.

As well as this policies on bullying prevention, host responsibility at work social functions and workplace relationships were advised.

MediaWorks were also asked to stop referring to on air workers as "talent", as the report said all roles at the business require talent and the description is seen as a marker of the "old" culture that staff want to change.

Sex between senior staffer and 19yo guest at promo event

A senior MediaWorks employee engaged in sexual activity with a young woman at a promotional event, the report reveals.

The woman - a guest at a MediaWorks promotional event - was heavily intoxicated after being served drinks during the event.

"Later in the evening, MediaWorks staff saw a senior male MediaWorks employee engaging with the younger female guest," the Dew report said.

"He was more than twenty years older than her. Some reported, during this Review, feeling uncomfortable with the overly familiar physical contact between them. However, no other senior MediaWorks employees intervened to prevent the conduct.

"Later that evening, the incident of sexual conduct occurred between them. The young woman states she woke up the next day unable to fully recall the events of that evening. She was not aware of the extent, if any, of sexual conduct that had occurred between her and the senior male employee. On returning to Auckland later that day, she became distressed and sought medical attention and Police advice. She also contacted the male employee to confirm the extent of the sexual conduct between them.

"Since that time, the woman has reported suffering with serious psychological harm caused by the events of that evening and needing specialist counselling over a lengthy period. The impact of that evening has been significant for her.

"The respondent denies any unlawful conduct but accepts and regrets the harm caused to the young woman by events that evening. He states this was an isolated incident by him."

It was not until the father of the woman approached the company CEO that the matter was taken further, Dew's report said.

"As a result, the employee was suspended from work and MediaWorks commenced an internal investigation. During a meeting with the young woman, MediaWorks offered an apology, and she was asked if she was open to the male employee contacting her, if he wanted to make an apology.

"There was a short internal investigation conducted by MediaWorks People & Culture. There was no written report of the investigation ever made by MediaWorks. The investigation concluded with an oral discussion, between key senior executives, that the male employee's conduct did not warrant termination. However, some formal consequences were imposed on the employee.

"The young woman was not informed of the outcome of her complaint until she followed up with MediaWorks. The young woman was deeply upset with MediaWorks' response but did not have the resource or will to pursue the matter further."

Dew said in her assessment, the promotional event and the company's response were "poorly managed, with serious consequences for the young female".

This included the lack of host responsibility, communication around behaviour beforehand, the way the complaint was handled, the lack of expertise of the MediaWorks People and Culture team, and the lack of support for the complainant.

"The failings... are not of just one individual but a collective responsibility of the senior management team involved. The CEO and ultimately the Board at the time, all had some involvement in the decision making.

"The poor management of this incident, in the face of staff knowledge of the issues has damaged trust and confidence in the leadership of MediaWorks."

Where to get help:
• If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

• If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline

on: 0800 044 334 or text 4334.

• Alternatively contact your local police station

• If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.

 

 

 

 

 

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