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.
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.
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.