PwC opens investigation into racist misconduct at staff event

29 September 2021 3 min. read
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Professional services firm PwC is facing accusations of racist misconduct among its staff at a company-run event, with one diversity & inclusion leader said to have mocked Chinese accents.

Fresh off the back of KPMG’s exam cheating scandal, rival Big Four accounting and consulting firm PwC now has to contend with unwelcome scrutiny of its own, following accusations of racist misconduct by two human resources leaders at a company event last week. One executive, a senior manager of diversity & inclusion no less, is said to have mocked Chinese accents, while the other is reported to have dressed up as a “bat from Wuhan”.

“A number of people shared their disappointment, frustration and anger about this event,” PwC Australia CEO Tom Seymour told the Australian Financial Review, stating that the behaviour of those involved did not reflect the culture and values of the firm. “On behalf of all the team at PwC, I am extremely disappointed that this incident has occurred. I am hugely disappointed we fell short of the standard we hold ourselves to.”

PwC opens investigation into racist misconduct at staff event

According to the publication, PwC, which learned of the accusations on Friday, has now expedited its internal investigation into the event – a virtual trivia night hosted by members of the human resources team on Thursday – while also seeking external legal advice. With the firm’s leadership initially suggesting the issue may take a number of weeks to resolve, a response is now expected within a week, to allow for “due process”.

The AFR reports that details of the incident first surfaced on Instagram page The Aussie Corporate – a big business troll account with close to 25,000 followers – yet they appear to have since been removed. It’s suggested that the two occurrences cited were ‘sketches’, while it’s also alleged that one of the trivia questions concerned Chinese telco Huawei, with participants asked to choose which of a series of logos best represented communism.

Seymour labelled the sketches as both “racist and offensive”, while downplaying their intention to offend – despite being “thoughtless and harmful” and causing discomfort among members of staff. “We aspire to be an inclusive and caring organisation. We have to work harder to meet this goal,” he said. An email was sent to the firm’s partnership on Monday, with an apology later forwarded to those who had attended the event.

It’s a significant own goal by PwC, following a week on from the release of the firm’s annual global business culture survey, which found a sizeable disconnect between what company leaders say about diversity and inclusion and what their workforce actually experiences – made all the worse by those accused of having committed the breach being the same people tasked with driving standards and handling the complaints process as to racial discrimination.

It also comes at the time of an extreme talent shortage in Australia, exacerbated by the country’s ongoing border closures. In response, each of the Big Four has introduced a range of fresh incentives to attract and retain staff in recent months, including PwC, which has overhauled its bonus and pay structure.

Now, according to the AFR, several employees, including those of Chinese descent, have said that they are presently questioning their future at the firm.