Did you guys read the Financial Times’ article today about the “culture of fear” at the Big 4? If you have a subscription or know a trick around the paywall, you should carve out some time to read it.
FT spoke with 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 accounting firms treat whistleblowers. And as you can imagine, they treat whistleblowers horribly and, in some instances, rarely punish—and sometime even promote—the accused.
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.
Almost all complained about an individual of a higher rank within the firm. In most of these cases, the whistleblower left within months of raising their concerns, while the alleged perpetrator remained.
And these 20 individuals worked at Big 4 firms around the world—from San Diego to Tokyo to London, the article says. Harassment and discrimination at the Big 4 is a global problem, as we’ve reported on, especially at EY, where in the past 14 months, there have been accusations by women in the U.S., Switzerland, and India.
And while the majority of the people who talked with FT are women, there was a man who shared his story in the article. And all four firms are represented:
- A woman who worked at PwC in Tokyo felt ostracized by colleagues because she was not ethnically Japanese, and says she was subjected to a form of bullying known as mushi in Japan, in which the victim is completely ignored by co-workers.
- A woman who worked at EY in the U.K. was told by a senior manager in audit that he wanted to “f**k” her, and that he “needed and wanted” her. He also put his hands on her shoulders and shook her in a taxi when she refused to have a drink with him.
- A man who worked at a KPMG office on the East Coast was told to stop coming into work shortly after reporting to human resources several incidents involving sexist and homophobic abuse.
- A woman who worked at Deloitte in Bermuda was sexually assaulted by a partner from the firm’s NYC office—the “skin was torn off of my nipples, the right more than the left, and they were both bleeding,” and she had bruises on her chest and arms.
The fact that there are incidents of sexual harassment, bullying, and discrimination going on at the Big 4 is nothing new. But it’s still pretty damn shocking to read these individuals’ stories and how they were treated by their employers, who love to tout that they “take all allegations of inappropriate conduct very seriously and investigate fully,” even though the investigations oftentimes end up with the firm taking the side of the person accused and not the accuser.
“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.”
The article is long but it’s good reporting and definitely worth your time.