September 20, 2021

PwC Walks a Fine Line Between Its People and Clients on Same-Sex Marriage

Maybe you heard, but the Supreme Court ruled on Friday that same-sex couples would be allowed to marry in all 50 states. It was an enormous victory for civil rights and serves as a reminder that America can still get something right.

In their quest to be the diversitiest and inclusiviest, the Big 4 have made it known for awhile that they supported the right for same-sex couples to marry. All four firms signed on to the amici curiae brief that was filed on behalf of 379 employers supporting the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges. It put everyone on notice that the biggest accounting firms in the world are proud to be with LGBT community.

Internally, the firms have a much bigger challenge. A poll from back in April found that 78% of people under 30 support gay marriage while 6 in 10 Republicans still opposed it. Accounting is known to be a conservative profession, however with such overwhelming numbers of young people in support, firm leaders would be foolish to oppose a movement that a large portion of their employees support.

On the other side, you can reasonably assume that the majority of the clients accounting firms serve would lean conservative. Accounting firm partners go to great lengths to not irritate these people who may or may not vocally express their dissatisfaction with the ruling.

The PwC brass knew they were in a tricky spot, so that's why they developed these talking points. A source made a copy of them available to Going Concern and here they are:

Marriage Equality Talking Points

It's interesting set of points because they focus entirely on the business ramifications rather than civil rights, which was THE WHOLE POINT, but never mind that; the firm has two big stakeholder groups to address in this situation and this artful shift of perspective allows partners to bestow some "business wisdom" upon those clients who disagree with ruling but also align themselves with the views of their employees.

Bob Moritz even wrote a blog post on Friday to extol the decision and stress the commercial case for same-sex marriage:

In its ruling, the Supreme Court’s majority frequently focused on the private, personal reasons individuals choose to marry and the harm the LGBT community suffered by laws forbidding same-sex marriages or their recognition.  In addition to its stated reasoning, the majority might also have explained the material, negative impact the prohibitions had on the LGBT community’s ability to participate in American commerce and on the economy itself.

Economically, marriage inequality was bad for the private sector and American competitiveness.  PwC’s experience was emblematic: state laws that prohibited same-sex marriage hampered our efforts to recruit and retain the most talented people, caused us to incur significant expenses to ensure our LGBT employees received equal benefits from state to state, and inhibited our ability to deploy our people in states that prohibited or did not recognize same-sex marriages.

For these and related reasons, marriage inequality was expected to cost the private sector $1 billion this year alone. As of today, however, American businesses can now invest that $1 billion where it belongs – directly into products, services, and people. At PwC, we will now stop spending time and money addressing inconsistent state laws. We will now start investing these resources in ways that contribute to driving our growth and providing our people with additional means to help them deliver the highest quality service possible.

Marriage equality = more profits(!) isn't exactly in the spirit of the movement, but financial interests do have a knack for bringing people together. Smaller firms can take this as a PR lesson on how to effectively find a fit for a cultural issue into a business context.

What do you think? Has your come out with a similar message or stayed silent? Discuss below.

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