One of New Zealand's most powerful businesswomen has revealed she was sexually harassed as a 20-year-old starting her career.

Multi-millionaire Annette Presley said she wore running shoes to work - not to get fit but to escape the advances of men in the office.

"I remember being chased around the computer room, when I was a night operator, by two very successful businessmen in New Zealand," Presley said.

Presley never laid a complaint but hopes talking about her experience will help others open up if they are being sexually harassed at work.


"I believe that sexual harassment in the workplace will never go away but hopefully it can change and decrease for women and men," she said.

"This will only be achieved through strong women standing up and being counted and through strong men helping and supporting women and pulling them up into the system."

From that first job Presley went on to launch her own IT recruitment company, Stratum, then co-founded CallPlus, made up of CallPlus Business, Slingshot, Orcon, Flip and 2talk, with her business partner and former husband Malcolm Dick. The company sold for $250 million last year.

Presley said she hasn't suffered sexual harassment since her first job but puts that down to the good fortune of having strong and supportive bosses.

The Human Rights Commission receives around 70 complaints of sexual harassment each year - most are from European women aged 18 to 30.

But anecdotal evidence suggests most sexual harassment incidents are never reported and are dealt with within the work structure or not at all.

A study in the Australian Journal of Public Administration found middle-age women bosses are just as likely, if not more, to be victims of sexual harassment.

The study of more than 100,000 employees conducted by the University of Antwerp in Belgium found that while for men, being the boss decreases their chances of being sexually harassed, the picture for women was less clear.


It found women with supervisory authority between 30 and 44 years were more likely to be harassed compared with men in the same roles.

Presley wanted to see more conversations around sexual harassment in the workplace - similar to recent discussions around domestic violence.

"We need to get people talking about this and then we will get somewhere in stopping it," she said.

"Years ago people didn't want to talk about domestic violence and now we are talking about it."

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern said she too was sexually harassed at work in her 20s. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Labour MP Jacinda Ardern said she too was sexually harassed at work in her 20s. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern said she too was sexually harassed at work in her 20s.

Ardern wasn't surprised at the findings and believed the same was probably true in New Zealand.

"I think when you are older and more experienced you are more savvy in the way you deal with sexual harassment but it does not surprise me that more senior women still experience this," she said.

Like Presley, Ardern did not lay a complaint but talked it over with friends and colleagues.

What to do

Sexual harassment can be dealt with under the Employment Relations Act as a personal grievance against an employer within 90 days of the incident or under the Human Rights Act 1993, as a complaint. Serious cases could involve police. Remedies include restraining orders, an apology, reimbursement of lost wages and compensation, including damages for humiliation and pecuniary loss.