Sexual Harassment and Public Accounting: Anecdotal Evidence from the Profession Gerald J. Miller, PhD, CPA, CGFM The College of New Jersey Brian B. Stanko, PhD, CPA Loyola University-Chicago Ellen L. Landgraf, PhD, CPA Loyola University-Chicago
Sexual Harassment in the Professional Business Environment-Prior Studies • 1990 National Assoc. of Female Executives: 77% believed sexual harassment is a problem • 1991 survey of 524 firms by the American Management Association: 52% had dealt with allegations of sexual harassment • 1994 survey of 8,000 Federal workers: 44% of women respondents had experienced sexual harassment in the past two years
Sexual Harassment in Accounting:Prior Studies • 1994-96 Stanko & Miller: Government Accounting • 1999 Stanko & Schneider: Public Accounting • 2009 Stanko, Zeller & Werner: Public Accounting
What is Sexual Harassment? Fair Employment Practices Manual, EEOC, 1991: • Hostile Environment :unwelcome sexual conduct of co-workers or supervisors that interferes with an individual’s ability to work or creates an intimidating or offensive atmosphere • Quid pro quo: a workplace superior or coworker demands some degree of sexual favor and threatens to or actually does retaliate in a way that has a tangible effect on the working conditions of the harassment victim if he or she refuses to acquiesce
Survey Information • 2000 female members of the AICPA randomly selected; 616 responses for a rate of 31% • Each questionnaire included a definition of sexual harassment • Follow up questionnaire after six weeks • Some respondents may no longer have been employed in the public accounting sector
Narrative Comments • Approximately 18% (111/616) of the respondents provided narrative comments on the issue of sexual harassment. • The comments were analyzed and 96/111 (86%) were classified into five categories (one comment addressed two categories and was included in both).
Narrative Comment Categories • Incidence or lack thereof of sexual harassment (39%) • Sexual discrimination versus sexual harassment (23%) • Advice on how women can discourage or prevent future incidents of harassment or described their organization’s policy on sexual harassment (20%) • The current versus the past climate of sexual harassment (16%) • What does or does not constitute sexual harassment (2%)
Selected Comments-Incidence • “Sexual harassment and discrimination are very serious problems in public accounting and need to be addressed for women to remain employed in the industry.” • “I feel sexual harassment is extremely prevalent and is not going anywhere. I see it all of the time and have experienced it myself several times.” • “I experienced all of my sexual harassment or similar experiences during my Big 4 career, and virtually none of it outside of my of my Big 4 career.”
Incidence (con’t.) • “I had no problems in public accounting.” • “I have not known of any sexual harassment cases at my firm in the 7 years I have been employed there.” • “I don’t know if the accounting profession has adequately addressed the issue of sexual harassment because I have never been exposed to it.”
Discrimination vs. Harassment • “Sexual discrimination is more of a problem than sexual harassment. Look at all Big 4 accounting firms and you’ll see it quite starkly.” • “Sexual harassment is not the problem, but gender issues.” • A new partner told me that “he didn’t hire female accountants because they just have babies and then quit.”
Discrimination vs. Harassment (con’t.) • “I believe the traditional nature of the accounting profession makes it easier for sexual harassment and discrimination to take place.” • “I believe that the accounting profession, as I experienced it during internship and two years of service, has problems with plain harassment toward women.” • “Sexism is still a “BIG” issue.”
Discouragement and Prevention • “Company has made adequate provisions, but does not take complaints seriously.” • “On the surface “yes”-policies are in place and enforced if management is aware; “no” because individual attitudes remain in place.” • “I think the large firms are more concerned about protecting the firm from liability than their employees who may have been victims or violators.”
Current vs. Past Climate • “The problem has gotten much better over the last 15 years-training in sexual harassment, in general an awareness and better environment.” • “Isolated occurrence early in my career; much has changed in the last 20 years to eliminate issues.”
What Constitutes Sexual Harassment • “Harassment also takes the form of derogatory remarks over a female taking the “mommy track;” hence no promotions, lower raises, etc.” • “I do not consider vulgar language and jokes that are not tasteful to be sexual harassment. Further, I believe women abuse the use of the term.”
Conclusions, Implications, Recommendations • Public accounting firms continue to be exposed to significant within-firm risk, as well as with associated clients. • Sexual harassment most often takes the form of inappropriate comments or jokes. • The incidence of sexual harassment in public accounting is mixed. • Policies have been put in place but are not always enforced.
Conclusions, Implications, Recommendations (con’t.) • There has been a general improvement in both incidences and training during the past 15-20 years. • Sexual discrimination may be just as important an issue as sexual harassment. • Firms must continue to establish and enforce effective, well-communicated policies denouncing harassing behavior. • The AICPA should establish a separate rule on sexual harassment with an interpretation.