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PwC partners fined, staff stood down over ‘racist and offensive’ internal event

An investigation into the “racist and offensive” behaviour of two staff members at an internal trivia night has resulted in “penalties for partners, and people leaving their roles”, chief executive Tom Seymour says.

Business John Buckley 15 October 2021
— 1 minute read

PwC Australia mounted an expedited investigation into the behaviour of staff at an internal trivia night late last month after one HR executive allegedly dressed up as a “bat from Wuhan” during a sketch, while another mocked Chinese accents.

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PwC Australia chief executive Tom Seymour said staff were penalised and the firm will undertake a program of work focused on inclusion of its people from a diverse cultural background.

“The investigation of the facts and circumstances has been undertaken, and our People and Ethical Conduct Panel has concluded its findings, including as they relate to the partnership,” Mr Seymour said in a statement. 

“The Panel has made recommendations that are being implemented, including financial penalties for partners, and people leaving their roles,” he said. “But we cannot stop there.”

He said moving on from the incident will require the firm’s leadership to “listen” to its people, and turn to those from diverse backgrounds to thwart the racist behaviour of those who aren’t.

“We will undertake, as a top priority, a program of work focused on inclusion of our people from a diverse cultural background. In doing so, we will review our culture from the inside and out,” Mr Seymour said. 

“First, we will listen to our people, especially those from a diverse cultural background to understand their experiences. Then we will determine how we can strengthen our firm’s culture of belonging and inclusion. This will involve us listening, identifying areas for change and taking action.

“Discriminatory or exclusionary behaviours of any kind are wholly inconsistent with our values at PwC Australia. My hope is that this experience helps us uphold our purpose – to build trust in society and solve important problems – and that it can help us drive positive sustained change for our people and our communities.”

Racism in the workplace is expressly forbidden under the Racial Discrimination Act, with the Fair Work Commission ruling in recent years that dismissals for such behaviour are not unreasonable, even if only “banter”.

According to the Australian Financial Review, the incident has left some PwC staff disillusioned with the firm. More than 44 per cent of employees at the big four firm are from a non-European cultural background, with the figure sitting at 17 per cent at its partnership level.

PwC’s chief diversity, inclusion and wellbeing officer, Julie McKay, explained on the firm’s website that diversity and inclusion is “fundamentally about our people’s wellbeing and sense of psychological safety and belonging”.

PwC partners fined, staff stood down over ‘racist and offensive’ internal event
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John Buckley

John Buckley

John Buckley is a journalist at Accountants Daily. 

Before joining the team in 2021, John worked at The Sydney Morning Herald. His reporting has featured in a range of outlets including The Washington Post, The Age, and The Saturday Paper.

Email John at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Business