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Deloitte U.K. Fired 20 Partners for Being Scumbags

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Over the past four years, Deloitte U.K. has gotten rid of about 20 partners for inappropriate behavior, including sexual harassment and bullying, the firm’s CEO, David Sproul, told the Financial Times in an article published on Dec. 9.

“We will fire people for any inappropriate behaviour. No one is protected,” said David Sproul. “There has been unfortunately a number of partners who have been fired for inappropriate behaviour, be it of a sexual nature or of a bullying nature. I’d like to say there weren’t any, but there are.”

David Sproul

Deloitte has approximately 1,000 U.K. partners, the Financial Times noted, but according to Economia, only 19% are women. Women make up about 43% of Deloitte U.K.’s total workforce. Sproul said he hopes to increase the percentage of female partners to 25% by 2020.

In the Financial Times article, Sproul did not say whether all or most of the fired partners were men, but we’ll say that’s a safe bet based on a post he published on his LinkedIn page today about what Deloitte U.K. has done to improve gender diversity and increase women in leadership positions.

We have changed our recruitment processes, created sponsorship programmes for female senior managers and directors, introduced working parents transition coaching and launched a return to work programme. We have also focused on ensuring that our people are able to work in a way that works for them and for our business – ensuring that they can have a successful career alongside their commitments outside the workplace.

All these efforts are important interventions in progressing more women to leadership levels, but they would not have been enough on their own. We also needed to provide an inclusive and respectful culture – where all our people are judged only on the value they can (or could) bring.

The topic of culture and behaviour in business has certainly been brought to the fore this year by the #MeToo movement. Making people feel that, regardless of who they are, they can bring themselves to – and succeed at – work is paramount to diversity in all its forms, whether that’s gender, ethnicity, sexuality or simply people from different backgrounds.

Spurred on by #MeToo, several former female professionals at Big 4 firms have shared their stories this year of alleged sexual harassment, sexual assault, discrimination, and retaliation by male partners.

Ex-EY partners Jessica Casucci and Karen Ward went public with their sexual harassment allegations against the firm in complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, while an unnamed former Deloitte Bermuda staffer accused a senior partner from the firm’s New York office of sexually assaulting her in a Bermuda hotel room three years ago. Then there were instances of alleged sexual harassment and assault detailed in a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by a group of former and current KPMG female tax and advisory professionals against the firm.

And there will likely be more.

What we’ve seen in all of these accusations are the lengths the firms will go to in order to bury serious complaints of sexual harassment, or force out the alleged victim and protect the partner or partners who were accused, which makes Sproul’s transparency to the Financial Times regarding the fired Deloitte U.K. partners surprising.

“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,” he said. “Some people definitely would have to have that explained to them. So we’ve been very clear on what is acceptable in our firm.”

Sproul, who is retiring as Deloitte U.K. CEO next year, said the firm introduced several initiatives to combat sexual harassment and discrimination years before the #MeToo movement, including mandatory “respect and inclusion” training for all staff, helplines that allow employees to report problems anonymously, and a video where employees explained why a situation made them uncomfortable.

He wrote on LinkedIn:

[E]mbedding a respectful and inclusive culture needs leadership to live it, take action when required and speak about it – explaining what it means in practical terms to people and why it matters. Instilling values through checklists alone won’t succeed – people need to feel empowered to do the right thing and to know that we will respond in the right way.

I’m under no illusions that there is still much to do. And 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.