Despite accounting firms changing their Twitter logos to rainbows for the month of June, a shocking number of LGBT accountants are straight up leaving the profession because they feel they don’t belong. This is very bad news considering how shallow the talent pool is to begin with.
LGBTQ+ accountants’ high attrition rate — with one-in-five LGBTQ+ respondents in the US reporting they have left the profession due to a lack of DEI — is highlighted in IMA and CalCPA’s 2021 study in the US. Indeed, much of this attrition came down to LGBTQ+ accountants not feeling comfortable bringing their full selves to work, according to Loreal Jiles, vice president, Research and Thought Leadership at IMA and one of the lead researchers of the series. “The expectation that, ‘I need to present myself as something else in the workplace’ was a key contributor to the decision to leave employers, and sometimes, the profession altogether,” Jiles states.
To address this alarming rate of LGBTQ+ workers departing from the tax & accounting profession, accounting employers need to focus on fostering a culture of belonging. “Until people believe that they belong, until their voices are valued and respected, just as others are, intentionality on the part of leaders is required,” Jiles adds.
On the topic of belonging, PwC is the only Big 4 firm that appears in the top ten of Vault’s 2023 Best Accounting Firms for LGBTQ+ Individuals; KPMG shows up at #17, followed by Deloitte at #18. EY is not in the top twenty at all.
- Schellman & Company, LLC
- PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) LLP
- Moss Adams LLP
- Friedman LLP
- Frank, Rimerman + Co. LLP
- Plante Moran
- CohnReznick LLP New York, NY
- Armanino LLP
- Marcum LLP
- BDO USA LLP
- PKF O’Connor Davies
- Baker Tilly
- KPMG LLP
- RSM US LLP
- Eide Bailly LLP
Firms have long claimed to support LGBT talent and, in some cases, do more than just make claims; one example is PwC extending domestic partner health benefits to both gay and straight couples, another is EY’s generous parental leave and adoption benefits. Surely there are many, many more tangible examples, we don’t have all day to list them out.
One reason LGBT accountants cite for leaving their firms is feeling like their employers aren’t taking reports of bullying seriously:
An added element of this troubling finding is that LGBTQ+ professionals did not believe that employers were taking sufficient disciplinary action for repeat offenders who create a hostile work environment. Indeed, many LGBTQ+ accountants noted that their employers have anonymous hotlines and other tools to report incidents of bullying and harassment, but saw little follow-through from management when issues or incidents were reported.
“They didn’t feel that there would be real reprimand,” Jiles notes, based on feedback from multiple survey participants. As a result, accounting firm leaders need to rethink how these anonymous reporting systems are designed and how penalties are handled, once multiple reports of incidents are reported by multiple people on the same person, who often may be a leader.
The issue of firms looking the other way when bullying and harassment are reported is well-documented. In 2019, Financial Times spoke to 20 ex-Big 4 employees who were victims of sexual harassment, bullying, and discrimination in the workplace as part of an investigation into how these firms treat whistleblowers. FT found that not only are these whistleblowers treated like dirt, the bullies are rarely punished and worse, sometimes they even get promoted.
The FT identified a disturbingly common pattern in terms of how complainants were treated: most initially felt ignored, then isolated and were eventually pushed out. Legal clauses aimed at silencing them swiftly followed; nine of those interviewed said they were pressured into signing restrictive non-disclosure agreements. Others were asked to sign but resisted.
Many of these whistleblowers — most of whom shared documents with the FT that supported their accounts — claim they were treated like pariahs by their employers at a time when they most expected to receive support.
One whistleblower who spoke to FT did not mince words:
“We are nothing. We are grist to the mill for these organisations,” says a former EY employee who complained about homophobia at the firm. “There is no prestige attached to anybody below partner level, and the reputational damage of having a partner being seen to misbehave is far more significant to them than paying someone off and telling them to shut up.”
It’s no wonder then that this subset of individuals who are already vulnerable targets for bullying, harassment, and discrimination in their everyday lives might look elsewhere for employment when they find that same hostility is very much alive at accounting firms.
Firms better get it together, we can’t afford to lose any more bodies than we already have.
LGBTQ+ accountant attrition & ESG information integrity signal growing role for accountants, new study finds [Thomson Reuters]