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Big Four fire partners in wake of MeToo movement

11th Dec 2018

The Big Four accountancy firms have disclosed for the first time the inappropriate behaviour within their senior ranks.

Deloitte, KPMG, PwC, and EY this week revealed the number of partners who have left their firms over inappropriate behaviour such as bullying and sexual harassment.

Deloitte was the first to reveal that it had fired 20 partners in the past four years. KPMG followed on Tuesday morning announcing that seven partners had left the firm over similar bullying and sexual harassment accusations.

PwC was the next to confirm five out of its 915 partners had been let go over the past three years, noting that it is “committed to ensuring an inclusive, fair and diverse workplace and do not tolerate harassment or bullying”.

EY was the final Big Four firm to disclose that five UK partners have been dismissed over the past four years, adding that it has a dedicated hotline and encourages employees to report inappropriate behavior.  

Deloitte’s outgoing chief executive David Sproul took a strong public stance against such behaviour in the FT this week (paywall). “We will fire people for any inappropriate behaviour. No one is protected,” he said.

MeToo movement

Deloitte and KPMG’s revelations come after the #MeToo movement in October last year exposed the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse that had previously been dismissed or silenced. As the allegations against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein intensified, the phrase encouraged a wave of sexual harassment and abuse victims to use the hashtag on social media. 

KPMG UK head of people Anna Purchas credited the #MeToo movement for sparking a review of the Big Four firm’s current policies and an internal campaign that encouraged employees to raise their grievances with a senior manager, dedicated HR contact or via the firm’s whistleblowing hotline.

Purchas said the aim of the campaign was to highlight how seriously the firm takes the policy: “When we receive reports of behaviour that contravenes our policy we have a set disciplinary process and where allegations are upheld, we have taken a range of actions including dismissal.”  

Sproul explained to the FT that Deloitte has also “reinforced” its harassment guidelines. An area he discussed in the FT was the appropriateness of socialising with colleagues after work. “You can’t meet someone more junior to you in a bar on a Friday evening after work and assume she or he is attracted to you [and is seeking] a one-night stand. You just can’t do it.”

An inclusive culture

Having a culture of inclusiveness is something the big accountancy firms have tried to reconcile this year. However, gender pay gap figures published in April demonstrated that more needs to be done.

Following his FT interview Sproul detailed the changes Deloitte has made to instil an inclusive culture spanning gender, sexuality and ethnicity. Along with having the smallest pay gap amongst the top accountancy firms (12%), Sproul also revealed that 6,000 Deloitte senior people were put through inclusive leadership workshops.

Sproul said an easy option would be to deal with bad behaviour discreetly, but in order to shine a light on the firm’s commitment to an inclusive culture, direct action is critical such as “removing colleagues or partners should their behaviour go against what we expect at Deloitte”.

He concluded: “In the months to come, as I hand over the reins to my successor, my message will be clear: inclusion needs to be at the heart of business culture, with commitment and attention from all levels within a business. The #MeToo movement has shone a light on culture – we need business to do the same.”

Inappropriate behaviour outside Big Four

Inappropriate behaviour is not exclusive to the Big Four accountancy firms. Cheap Accounting’s Elaine Clark, who formed the women in accountancy group, noted back in June that the “old boy networks of bullies, misogynists and male chauvinists” that she experienced when she was training back in the 1980s still exist.

Reporting on her social media interaction with the head of tax at a top six firm Clark said: “Luckily I do not have to tolerate unacceptable behaviour and can simply block or ignore it when it happens, but my fear is that if this is how some males interact on social media, what must it be like to work with or for them? What must it be like to be a female client? How much good talent is being overlooked and marginalised if a firm is ruled by old boy network bullies, misogynists and male chauvinists?”

Smaller practices have also not escaped overt sexism when networking or meeting clients. Writing on AccountingWEB last year, Della Hudson talked about the overt sexism she’s encountered as a practice owner from the “well-meaning avuncular businessman” and being being told in a work environment that she has “enchanting eyes”.

Mazuma Accountants’ Lucy Cohen also wrote on AccountingWEB how gender stereotypes prevail in the world of accountancy. “It came as somewhat of a surprise to me when I was asked at networking events whether I was working for my dad’s company. Or if I was the company PA. When I answered the phone I was asked on more than one occasion if I was the secretary.”

Have you experience bullying or harassment in the workplace? Are the proper procedures in place to ensure employees are not vulnerable to this abuse?


*Article updated on Thursday 13th December to include the number of partners EY fired for bullying and sexual harassment.

Replies (21)

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Hallerud at Easter
12th Dec 2018 17:13

As a total aside ,are the big four actually partnerships- are these removed individuals really partners- removing a partner is a lot trickier than firing an employee.

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By Moonbeam
12th Dec 2018 19:12

Given the awful track record of the big four as far as audit is concerned, I wonder if the facts are very different from the broadbrush figures.

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Replying to Moonbeam:
By Colleenw
14th Dec 2018 11:04

Agreed - I highly suspect these few individuals are just the tip of the ice-berg ; an "acceptable" number to publish so that they can demonstrate they are doing something : i.e. PwC saying well, we only had 5 out of 915 so we must be doing something right, right?

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14th Dec 2018 10:25

I've got a nice [***], so I've been told, a lady shoved her hand down there one evening in a pub, whilst I was stood at a table.

Why is it ok and funny for women to abuse men, to watch strippers , to go phworrr! At pictures of half naked men, yet for men, we are made to feel shame at the slightest hint of such behaviour.

I'm sure if I went to the police it would have been laughed off, or if I had confronted the lady i would have been seen as the evil aggressive man.

All this is bs, men and women act the same.

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Replying to SJH-ADVDIPMA:
By Duggimon
14th Dec 2018 11:03

You're part of the problem and your outmoded misogynist response to this and no doubt any other story about inappropriate conduct are a clear indication of why we need to be more responsive to issues, not less.

The reason these things are treated differently whether it's a man or a woman perpetrating it is a symptom of the underlying problem, not a justification for ignoring it. It's not seen to be as serious because people's preconceptions have men firmly in a position of power and women as under them, which is so clearly wrong I can't believe I'm explaining it to you.

Perhaps if we could stop seeing the issue as one of "us and them" or "men vs women" then idiotic posts like yours would no longer be considered necessary by anyone.

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Replying to Duggimon:
By k743snx
14th Dec 2018 12:42

It may not agree with your world view, but I don't see anything "misogynist" in what was written.
Instead of challenging the assertions, you just resorted to inflammatory language.

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Replying to Duggimon:
By meadowsaw227
14th Dec 2018 12:55

Please get a life.

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Replying to Duggimon:
14th Dec 2018 13:35

Women , like the queen, cressida [***], theresa May, they're so lacking power it's unbelievable. You've been mind washed my friend, it's not about men using power against women, it's about human beings using power against each other, that was my point before your virtue signalling balderdash took over. You sound like the sort of guy who thinks we have white privilege (rather than majority privilege) , and swallow that a gender pay gap exists because a cabal of men meets in secret to set wages lower for women. When are we going to get back to some science, instead of this post modern / neo Marxist bs? Our sisters out there are well a d truly fed up with this bs as well, I can tell you.

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Replying to SJH-ADVDIPMA:
By Duggimon
14th Dec 2018 15:40

I don't think you understood a single word of what I said.

The gist of it was that it's not ok for people to sexually assault one another, whether male or female. I didn't think it was a controversial point.

You seem to have gotten hung up on society's response to these things, rather than the issue itself. Society's response is part of the problem though and you trumpeting on about how it's different if a woman does it to a man isn't helping.

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Replying to SJH-ADVDIPMA:
By k743snx
14th Dec 2018 12:39

Well said.
Many a young male worker has been grabbed and "tickled" by older female colleagues - including two people I can vouch for.

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By unclejoe
14th Dec 2018 11:08

How sad that a man complimenting a woman on her "enchanting eyes" is seen as sexist. I have made similar comments in the past to women colleagues and similarly complimented male colleagues when I thought it appropriate. It is part of social discourse. If women don't like it all they have to do is say "I really don't like that sort of comment, please don't do it again" and the vast majority of men would apologise and remember it. Classifying such trivial things in this way diminishes the real sexism that absolutely needs to be countered. Thank you.

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Replying to unclejoe:
By Duggimon
14th Dec 2018 11:42

I would consider it entirely inappropriate to compliment anyone on their enchanting eyes in a work environment and I find it baffling that anyone could consider it otherwise. At best it's really cringey and weird.

Work interactions are not just the same as social interactions and making people feel uncomfortable because you're too socially stunted to know how to interact is not a problem other people should have to deal with for you. They shouldn't have to point out that you're being weird, just like they shouldn't have to politely ask you to stop urinating in their shoes.

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Replying to Duggimon:
By Moonbeam
14th Dec 2018 12:12

@Uncle Joe -As a woman I've had these comments in the past at work from men - when of course I was younger and a lot more good looking. I would wholly agree with Duggimon's last statement. As long as you persist in thinking there's nothing wrong with your behaviour you will go on offending women (it's probably the younger ones anyway that you do this to isn't it) who are probably too junior to tell you to XXX off and who won't get any help from HR even if they do report you.
Anyway women most value compliments on their looks/what they are wearing from other women, so take it from me, you are embarrassing them when you make these remarks.

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Replying to Duggimon:
By meadowsaw227
14th Dec 2018 12:56

As I said please get a life.

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By k743snx
14th Dec 2018 12:35

The Hollywood MeToo crowd conveniently ignored the big, trumpeting elephant in the room - the casting couch.

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By k743snx
14th Dec 2018 12:47

You can have diversity, or you can have the best people in the job.
I've no quarrel with the latter....

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Replying to k743snx:
By Duggimon
14th Dec 2018 15:34

I don't think you understand the problem, which is why you find it difficult to agree with the solutions.

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Replying to k743snx:
By coops456
17th Dec 2018 08:38

Please think about this a little harder. Deciding on "the best people" is subjective. Some of us have ignorant and bigoted opinions and we all have unconscious bias that favours people "like us".

If your customers are diverse, why wouldn't you want a diverse workforce to serve them?

I recommend reading Wilful Blindness by Heffernan.

Diversity is to welcomed - not only because it's morally right for everyone to have a fair chance - but because it's proven to enhance overall performance.
If your staff all look like you, you're missing out. Diverse backgrounds mean tackling problems in different ways. Healthy debate leads to better decisions.

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By theteamblogging
14th Dec 2018 15:55

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I had confronted the lady i would have been seen as the evil aggressive man.

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By Ian McTernan CTA
15th Dec 2018 10:35

'Elaine Clark, who formed the women in accountancy group'

Is there a 'men in accountancy group'? Or would that be considered sexist? I can just imagine the outcry if a man was to set up such a group...

Also, what was the split between men and women fired?

Bullying and sexual harassment of all sexes needs to be stamped out, and not sure the ~MeToo movement is still heading in the right direction as it's become more of a witch hunt than a force for good.

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
By Glenn Martin
17th Dec 2018 16:23

I have to agree with you. If women want to be dealt with as equals then setting your own group up without men involved does not achieve that.

Obviously any form of sexual harrassment is not acceptable but we run the risk of suffocating dynamic individuals who may be seen to be too keen for success.

I go to a lot of networking events and spoke to someone who had set up one of the "prossecco and lunch type" women only groups. The reason been was that she was sick of attending BNI and the like which are dominated by men.

You can only dominate at a network if you are good at what you do., not because you are a man. If you have to isolate yourself away in a women only group its because you cannot probably hack it in a mixed group.

I suspect there is very little decent business passed at these events.

The bull-pit in the stock market does not operate in a PC way but it is hugely successful, you make that choice when you join it.

These aggressive partners who have got the push from the Big 4 also probably had the best billings in the firm.

The snowflake generation will make the work place a terrible place to spend time, as everyone will become too scared to speak to each other for risk of offending someone.

The reason women earn less money in Hollywood is that the films with women in lead roles tend to be toss and not big box office.

Action movies generate the big cash, if Rocky had a woman in the lead role it would be a terrible film.

Best people for the best jobs has to be the way, as forced equality and quota filling is not the way.

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