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EY Oceania’s Appalling Culture Is Back in the News With Gruesome New Details

Sexual harassment, inappropriate sensual work behavior with a woman worker

I noticed today that this July 2023 article on EY Oceania’s culture problems was getting an unusual amount of traffic over the past few days, a phenomenon that could only mean one thing: EY’s culture problems must be back in the news and not for anything good. Lo and behold, my instinct was correct.

In that article we focused on the work side of an independent report EY Oceania commissioned itself after a young auditor was found dead at the Sydney office on a Saturday in August 2022. 46% of the 4,500 current and former staff surveyed for the report reported that their health had been negatively affected as a result of long hours and overwork, two in five people were considering quitting, and 31% of people at EY were working 51 or more hours in a week, at least one week out of every four. Worse, approximately one in ten (11%) were working 61 or more hours in a week.

What we breezed right by was this nugget:

  • 15% of people have experienced bullying, 10% indicated they had experienced sexual harassment, and 8% of people experienced racism.

Interestingly, 78 percent of staff surveyed said they believed the firm could make meaningful change in relation to sexual harassment, 74 percent in relation to racism, and 70 percent in relation to bullying. Only 31 percent said they were confident EY Oceania could change a culture of long work hours and overwork. The other 69 percent are clearly in denial.

Fast-forwarding to current day. Last month, Stuff of New Zealand wrote about the mysterious departure of EY New Zealand chair, partner, and business development leader Braden Dickson due to a “historical behavioral matter.” What exactly it was was anyone’s guess but Stuff did some digging around. This might offer a clue later:

Screenshot from “NZ chair of EY leaves after ‘historical behavioural matter’ raised,” published on Stuff March 14, 2024

A couple days after the initial report, Stuff followed up with “Departure of top EY boss exposes concerns over culture.” All of what’s mentioned below will sound familiar to anyone who’s ever done time at a Big 4 firm regardless of continent.

One former employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because “the accounting world is small in New Zealand”, described sexist and homophobic comments making staff uncomfortable.

“I recall one of the audit partners [who Stuff has chosen not to name] … saying things like ‘nothing worse than a team of females when it’s that time of the month’, or he would joke about someone being gay.

“It doesn’t give you any comfort that you could raise an issue.”

Multiple former staff have described the impact of tolerance of workplace affairs.

“When you’re a 21 or 22-year-old and that stuff is blatantly in your face with no effort to hide it, it creates this atmosphere of ‘anything goes’.”

It would lead to tension between the company’s partners because some disapproved of others’ behaviour.

Multiple former employees have raised concerns about an excessive drinking culture, under which staff would begin drinking at 5pm on a Friday and continue until midnight before often heading into town, and then “drag yourself back in on Saturday or Sunday or possibly both”.

“You’d work long hours, then socialise with workmates, and that was your life,” said one. “People outside the ‘big four’ didn’t understand what was going on.”

The former staff who spoke to Stuff hadn’t heard Braden Dickson left but said she was “not surprised.”

Stuff‘s initial reporting brought more people out of the woodwork, current and former staff who seemed eager but afraid to speak up. They then found out about a senior employee — service line and position not mentioned in the article — who got promoted after a serious sexual harassment complaint against him. “‘Big Four’ accounting firm under fire over sexual harassment” discusses this and many, many more incidents experienced by current and former EY staff. Women, specifically:

Another senior executive who was the subject of at least two separate complaints also continued to be employed, while the women who made the complaints left the firm.

“It sends a pretty clear message that revenue is more important to the partner group than the safety of women,” said one, “and given how recent these examples are, the sincerity of EY’s intention to meaningfully implement the recommendations included in [the review] seems questionable.

“I think the men who behave like this know that they would be more likely to be managed out for not meeting their revenue targets than for sexually harassing a junior employee.”

‘Big Four’ accounting firm under fire over sexual harassment,” Stuff March 30, 2024

“In order to preserve their own incomes the partners will overlook even the most serious of indiscretions committed by their peers, provided said peers are still bringing significant revenues to the firm,” said another former EY staff who talked to Stuff.

Still another person talked about a partner they said was “a widely known predator but nevertheless a protected species.”

“He is well known to push heavy nights on the drinks and then grope, kiss and make sexual advances and even lick the junior colleagues in his teams — all in front of stunned onlookers who are powerless to intervene and scared into silence.

“Ultimately, all the partners care about is the revenue he brings.”

One woman who also left the firm called making a complaint “scary” and said she had to “sign a piece of paper saying I couldn’t talk about it.”

“The process is slanted in favor of the perpetrator,” said still another ex-EYer who made her own complaint. “They make you feel like a piece of [shit], like you’re doing something to that person that might ruin their career. But there was no consequence for him. The women go through this horrible process and get nothing at the end. Not [in terms of] money, which I couldn’t care less about. Justice, or a sense of relief, or anything.” That might explain why more than nine in ten of people surveyed for the independent culture report agreed that they always feel safe in their workplace (94%) and that people behave in a respectful manner towards others (92%).

There’s more if you choose to read the Stuff piece. They haven’t outright said Dickson departed the firm due to the same behavior mentioned in the article, only opened the floor to a discussion about culture and partners abusing their power to get away with appalling behavior as long as they’re bringing in clients.

2 thoughts on “EY Oceania’s Appalling Culture Is Back in the News With Gruesome New Details

  1. “…and 31% of people at EY were working 51 or more hours in a week, at least one week out of every four. Worse, approximately one in ten (11%) were working 61 or more hours in a week.”

    Decent flex arrangement, I’d say.

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