PwC investigates as laddish e-mails go viral

 

SEXIST E-MAILS by male employees about young female colleagues in PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dublin were being viewed on internet sites around the globe yesterday.

The series of e-mails, that included staff photographs of the women, were circulated within the firm at first but then sent to men in other financial services businesses in Dublin.

Senior partner with the firm Ronan Murphy yesterday sent an e-mail to its Irish clients and alumni emphasising that the firm was taking the issue “extremely seriously”.

The Irish Daily Mail,the Irish Independentand the Evening Heraldyesterday published the photographs of the women that accompanied the e-mails. The photographs were also published on such widely viewed websites as gawker.com and the Huffington Post in the US, as well as on websites in Canada and India.

The e-mail thread that appeared on the internet indicated that on the afternoon of October 26th, Stephen Tully of PwC sent an e-mail to 14 male colleagues within the firm. “This would be my shortlist for the top ten,” the e-mail stated. An hour later colleague Paul G Cummins replied: “Great Work, have reservations about the last one getting in.”

The e-mail included photographs of female graduates who had recently joined the firm. The following morning Mr Tully fowarded the e-mail to the same group as well as two others with the message: “Lads, a couple added and also departments.”

Later that morning, David McDonough at PwC forwarded the e-mail to three male colleagues in the firm as well as to men in CBRE estate agents, Mercer consulting group and HSOC accountants. This e-mail included a crude term.

After this it appears the e-mail went viral and spread around the city.

According to Mr Murphy and a press statement issued earlier, the firm became aware of the e-mails late on Tuesday, November 9th.

It is expected the controversy, and the photographs, will appear in newspapers around the globe today. A full investigation by senior management is ongoing.

The women concerned are understood to be upset. Mr Murphy said they had the full support of the firm.

The chief executive of the National Women’s Council, Susan McKay, said the decision of some newspapers and websites to publish the photographs was a further invasion of the women’s privacy.

The e-mails gave an insight into the laddish culture that prevailed in some large corporations and showed why women found it difficult to thrive and progress in such an environment, she said.

Accountancy was one of those professions that attracted large numbers of intelligent young women but they still found it difficult to progress to the top.

A barrister with experience in employment law said an employer was vicariously liable for discrimination or sexual harassment suffered by an employee. However, the employer was protected if it has taken all reasonable steps to prevent such behaviour. A robust policy on the inappropriate use of e-mail and proper grievance practices would protect the employer.

The controversy is seen as particularly embarrassing for PwC because of the relatively large number of young male staff who were circulated with the e-mails, and the fact that it regularly provides guidance to clients on the importance of corporate culture and governance.

Those who forwarded the e- mails are all senior associates in asset management, positions usually held by relatively young employees.