Only 11 of the Big Four's 3,000 UK partners are black

06 July 2020 4 min. read
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The consulting industry is currently part of a major corporate drive to play a bigger role in combating systemic racism across the UK, but a closer examination of companies’ track records often shows that they have rarely walked the walk on the matter. According to recent reports in the British press, despite talking a good game on equality, of the Big Four audit and advisory firms’ 3,000 UK partners, only 11 are black.

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died in police custody, sparking outrage and protests in the United States and across the globe. The incident reignited conversations around racial inequality and police violence, with individuals and organisations expressing solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement by attending protests in person or voicing their support on social media. KPMG, Deloitte, PwC and EY have been part of this, with each having made interventions in the debate via social media calling for justice.

Joe Ucuzoglu, CEO of Deloitte US tweeted a pledge to “ensure Deloitte is leading the change we want to see,” while EY posted a black square on Twitter for #BlackoutTuesday, and stated, “EY is committed to being an agent of change, standing against racism and discrimination.” PwC also participated in the social media blackout campaign, and US Chair Tim Ryan called on society to “continue to fight for justice and to end racism,” a sentiment echoed by KPMG US CEO-Elect Paul Knopp, who tweeted, “The time for racial equity is overdue.”

Only 11 of the Big Four's 3,000 UK partners are black

While the Big Four’s US wings also pledged significant sums of money for anti-racism organisations in America, however, the companies have come under pressure for their alleged inaction regarding racial bias in their UK businesses. According to a report by The Daily Telegraph, only 11 of almost 3,000 equity partners at the Big Four audit and advisory firms are black. Deloitte has just one black equity partner, while EY and KPMG have two each, and PwC has six.

The news has seen the Big Four’s bosses come under mounting scrutiny regarding racial bias in the HR policies of their firms, and pushed them to promise a push for diversity in their senior ranks. PwC UK Chair Kevin Ellis quickly stated that the firm “should have more black people in senior roles” and is “accelerating our plans” to change that, including the introduction of mandatory unconscious bias training for all staff. Meanwhile, EY UK Chair Steve Varley said his company wants to double the proportion of partners who identify as black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) to 20% by 2025.

The firms had already been criticised for their seemingly flagging efforts to address their ethnic pay gap. In the years since it became legally mandated to publish information on the gap between the salaries of BAME and white staff, the Big Four have routinely cited the fact their workforces are more diverse at more junior levels for this disparity. However, as the years have passed and diversity higher up the corporate ladder has seemingly stagnated, the firms have come in for more stringent criticism.

This will not have been helped by the fact that while the firms already voluntarily disclose ethnicity pay gap data, they do not include a breakdown of the number of partners by ethnicity. According to The Daily Telegraph, while 4.3% of people at EY are black, less than 1% of its partners are. The largest share of the firm’s black partners are salaried, meanwhile, meaning they are senior employees who do not share in the firm's ownership or profits. Similarly, while Deloitte has one equity partner taking a share of the firm’s profits, it has five more black partners who are salaried.