Deloitte, KPMG and PwC reveal UK Partners fired for inappropriate behaviour

14 December 2018 4 min. read

After the #MeToo movement brought conversations on sexual misconduct to the forefront of the entertainment industry, all other aspects of business swiftly followed. The professional services sector is no exception, and as it attempts to shed its 'old boys club' reputation for a culture of toxic masculinity, three of the Big Four have revealed that they have fired Partners over inappropriate behaviour.

As a global movement to expose sexual misconduct in the workplace continues, members of the professional services Big Four have been hit by a number of severe allegations in 2018. An investigation was recently launched into a sexual harassment claim made against the Managing Partner of EY's Adelaide office, and a Partner from rival firm KPMG’s South Australian operations has left the firm amid harassment accusations of their own.

Earlier in 2018, a former Partner whose contract with PwC UK was terminated over sexual assault accusations attempted to sue the firm for £5 million. Reports circulated by the British press said that the man was accused of putting “his hand up the skirt of a woman in an Elvis Presley costume and touched her bottom.” The victim confronted the Partner one week later, and PwC began disciplinary procedures against him in March 2016.

Deloitte, KPMG and PwC reveal UK Partners fired for inappropriate behaviour

Despite the issue having come to such prominence, until recently none of the Big Four had released figures on how many such cases had occurred in the UK. At the start of December, Deloitte announced that it had parted ways with some 20 members of its 1,000 strong UK Partner team in four years, as a result of ‘inappropriate behaviour’, including allegations of bullying and sexual harassment. The admission from North-West Europe CEO David Sproul saw Deloitte become the first member of the Big Four to disclose the extent of its dismissals for such offences among its senior ranks. 

Sproul told the press, “We will fire people for any inappropriate behaviour. No one is protected… There has been unfortunately a number of partners who have been fired for inappropriate behaviour, be it of a sexual nature or of a bullying nature. I’d like to say there weren’t any, but there are.”

#MeToo movement

The announcement came on the heels of 12 months where the #MeToo movement has continuously exposed the pervasive sexual harassment of women at work. Commenting that Deloitte had reinforced its existing guidelines about the matter, Sproul added, “You can’t meet someone more junior to you in a bar on a Friday evening after work and assume she or he is attracted to you [and is seeking] a one-night stand. You just can’t do it,” he said. “Some people definitely would have to have that explained to them. So we’ve been very clear on what is acceptable in our firm.”

At the time when Deloitte released its figures, the remainder of the Big Four declined to comment on how many of their Partners had similarly been ousted on grounds of workplace misconduct. Since then, however, a further two firms have issued data and statements.

While KPMG had previously said it had only recently started collecting these figures, the firm revealed that seven of its 635 Partners had been dismissed for bullying and/or sexual harassment behaviour over the same four year period as Deloitte. Meanwhile, stating figures for just the last three years, PwC admitted to sacking five of its 915-strong Partner team for inappropriate behaviour.

PwC spokesperson confirmed the company is “committed to ensuring an inclusive, fair and diverse workplace”, while taking a zero-tolerance stance on harassment or bullying. They added, “We regularly review and update our policies and recently established a new inclusive and positive workplace policy with guidance for our people on areas such as standards of expected behaviour."

Anna Purchas, Head of People for KPMG, said its anti-harassment, victimisation and bullying policy “strictly prohibits” such behaviours at the firm. She explained, ““When our people experience or see behaviour they believe contravenes this policy, we actively encourage them to report it to us, either by speaking to a manager, senior colleague, dedicated HR contact or via Speak Up, our whistleblowing hotline or our Values Helpline.”

This leaves EY as the only remaining member of the top table of UK auditing and advisory to not have issued its figures – something it will likely do shortly to be seen as keeping pace with its rivals. As reported by the Financial Times, the most recent statement from EY said on the matter, “[The firm takes] any allegations of harassment in the workplace very seriously. Ensuring our people feel safe, included and valued is part of our culture and this is a responsibility we are committed to uphold.”