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Let’s Discuss: Beards in the Big 4

From the mailbag:

Caleb –

Just curious what your thoughts or GC readers’ thoughts are on male facial hair in the public accounting world. Personally, I hate shaving. I shave once a week but am sure to keep a clean line under the chin. (I also dress well and don’t believe that business casual means khakis and a golf shirt.) A friend of mine told me that his manager at his big 4 firm was asked to shave his nicely groomed beard by his partners. Is this normal? Petty? A generation thing?

Let me address your questions one at a time:

1.a. Q: “Is [partners telling managers to tell someone else to do something, like shaving] normal?” A: Yes. Some partners can’t believe they have��������������������general vicinity as the staff, let alone talk to them, so when an awkward conversation needs to be had, a manager often gets the privilege. That said, ambitious managers who want to become partners will often take it upon themselves to inform the beast in question to break out the Bic.

1.b. Q: Is [frowning on facial hair] normal?” A: As a general rule, yes. Some smaller firms are known to be pro-beard but As far as I am aware, the Big 4 state that they allow mustaches and beards if they are kept “neatly trimmed.” However, the reality is that most partners don’t like facial hair. Whether you are growing it for charity, you lost a bet to a broheim or your spouse thinks it’s hot; they don’t give a damn. They want your faces clean shaven.

2. Q: “[Is this] petty?” A: Well, we are talking about the Big 4, now aren’t we? Petty annoyances are part of the deal. In fact, a beard could cost you a promotion if you’re working for the wrong person. That said, I personally don’t think making an issue of facial hair is that petty. The reason being, that despite your well-trimmed beard, it is the exception rather than the rule. I share your hatred of shaving (not to mention your anti-khakis/golf shirt stance) but this is one of those “a few bad apples” situations. Lots of men in the Big 4 are flat-out slobs and if you give them an inch on facial hair, they’ll take a mile. Now, if you happen to have snuck in a well-groomed beard or mustache and kept it that way, you may get a pass but if you’re just letting the 5 o’clock shadow extend an extra day or two and it’s disgustingly obvious, you should get a talking to.

3. Q: “Is this a generational thing?” A: No. There are anti-beard people at various ages who simply equate facial hair with hipsters, hillbillies and the Taliban. I think it’s more of an accounting firm culture thing. So if you’re sporting one, it puts you at odds with TPTB and squarely in the “counter-culture” camp. But on a more practical level, you work in a professional environment for crissakes. For advisory and audit professionals staff who are in client-facing roles earlier than their tax counterparts, partners and managers don’t want you looking like a hobo in front of clients. It doesn’t seem logical to let the gents in tax let themselves go, so the rule applies across the board.

The “beard or no beard” question is now open for debate. Sorry about the gender-specific topic ladies. Your thoughts and unfiltered judgments on the matter are certainly welcome and encouraged.