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Retirement Commissioner says she would have been treated differently over workplace bullying allegations if she was a man

The Retirement Commissioner, Diane Maxwell, has broken her silence on the inquiry into workplace bullying allegations against her, saying she would have been treated differently if she was a man.

Ms Maxwell was suspended from her job last year while the claims by 16 former staff members were investigated by a Queens Counsel, who found they did not meet the benchmark for workplace bullying.

Ms Maxwell has her job back but only for a few weeks as the Government has not renewed her contract. 

Ms Maxwell has told TVNZ1's Q+A in an interview for tonight's programme she's not sure she would have gone through the same process if she were a man.

Asked by host Jack Tame about what that says about our society, Ms Maxwell replied: "I think we are at a really interesting point of grappling with women in the workplace, gender, what we believe about leadership, and also what we believe about what we should ask of people, and this broader issue of bullying. And I think it is needing some careful attention."

When asked if women are treated differently to men in leadership positions, she said she has to be tough to deal with the obscene letters she gets from the public, and in disagreeing with the Government.

"I have to be tough to disagree with the Government and to be prepared to stand up to the Government. I have to be tough when I'm representing New Zealand in Korea, in India, in Russia."

You can't lead a team of people for five years and not do a couple of dumb things - Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell

While the investigating QC did not find sustained bullying by Ms Maxwell, the QC found there were at least three instances in which the Retirement Commissioner had acted improperly. 

"You can't lead a team of people for five years and not do a couple of dumb things," Ms Maxwell said.

Asked what those dumb things were she said: "The really sad thing is we've got all these massive issues to talk about with the aging population and policy, and the risk is that we talk about this stuff and we lose the really important stuff."

Ms Maxwell stressed that she was cleared by the investigation, saying, "the majority of those allegations didn't stack up".

"Where it got to was a suggestion I had a communication issues or that my communication was poor. So I've done a fair bit of reflection over six months to think about that. 

"I think there's some really complex issues sitting in there. I'm ready to take it on board if I'm being an idiot, quite quickly and look at how I am doing.  But I think we've got to be a little bit careful here. I was cleared... I think there are some gender and cultural issues in there," Ms Maxwell said.

* Q+A is on TVNZ1 on Mondays at 9.30pm, and the episode is then available on TVNZ OnDemand and as a podcast in all the usual places.

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The Retirement Commissioner was suspended from her job last year but a QC later cleared her of bullying allegations. Source: Q+A