Tuesday, January 18

Toxic workplaces and sexual harassment remain common in professional companies

As I chatted with various women about their torrid work experiences, I had to fight my own growing anxiety and anger, recalling some traumatic experiences from many years ago. It is appalling that nothing has changed in 40 years. There are some corporate thugs – the big money earners loved by customers – who reign supreme, trampling anyone with a different voice or greater intellect.

This article focuses on women, but this does not mean that men lower down the career ladder are not harassed as well.


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More specifically, this article covers the experiences of women working for professional firms in the legal and accounting space, where harassment and sexual harassment are rife.

This is not an exageration. A Financial Times investigation uncovered “a culture of fear in the world’s leading accounting firms,” ​​as described in an article titled Betrayed by the Big Four: whistleblowers speak out.

Some women are still suffering from their experience and I couldn’t get close to them. Others are afraid that their careers will be shortened and would not risk chatting with me. Some matters are already in the legal process and therefore are off limits.

The partners who bullied the women I spoke to are well known.

These partners earn high fees, and even if they are forced to resign, they will be given time to move to another company, or to the corporate space, where they will maintain their position in the partnership.


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The victims

As for women who speak out, who file a complaint with the human resources department (HR) or who take the matter to the CCMA (Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration Commission), they will inevitably be forced to withdraw from righ now.

No matter the quality of their work, no matter what fees they bring. They will be ghosts and their future careers ruined.

Many victims will not make a fuss and walk away at the earliest opportunity, not to mention the abuse, not even at an exit interview. Human resources departments have already shown how they will push the victim under a bus and protect the company.

Reading the victims’ accounts below, one would be forgiven for thinking that they suffer from a persecution complex and do not act. Not so. They are smart, strong women and leaders in their field.

When threatened and ignited with gas, anyone can break down.

One victim insisted that she is not a victim and that she got over it. I asked him, really, after he was forced to leave the career he loved?

Nefarious behavior

A common modus operandi in building a business is to hire someone who has developed considerable practice in a particular specialty, take care of all of their clients and contacts, and over the next year belittle them in meetings, avoid them, and ghost them into their lives. they are forced to resign.

It is not unusual for a senior partner to take care of a major new client of the person who is being victimized. Or even all clients.

You may be strong, but …

Fighting can be time consuming and heartbreaking. The partner will be able to send the best lawyers to the CCMA, undoubtedly paid for by the firm. After all, the company has to protect its image and its earning potential.

Is this a tax deductible expense for the business? Of course, no.

If the business is paying an offender’s legal fees, is this a taxable fringe benefit? Oh yes it is.

Men who sexually harass or abuse are narcissistic, trusting, outgoing, lacking in ethics and empathy. They abuse because they can.

These men are usually protected by their clients, who are often part of their social circle, part of the same old man’s club.

Talking will no doubt result in the corporate SA misleading the victim. In addition to their names being wasted in corporate circles, they will also become synonymous with “difficult to manage.”

While having a few drinks at the golf club or one of those long lunches, it is very easy to fool these women: “she is such an underperformer”, “her clients are not happy”, she has a “sense of entitlement outside of place”.

Another victim put it this way: “If she tries to fight back, and goes to the CCMA, the firm would close ranks and cover … the woman who raises her voice will be squeezed out.”

Another said: “In short, I was bullied, degraded, degraded.”

Signaling of virtues

Women’s Month activities should include addressing the toxic culture of the workplace.

It is somewhat irritating that these same firms are making a fuss around Women’s Day and Women’s Month, proclaiming to “celebrate the successes and advances that women have made in the workplace.”

The companies to which this applies should put an end to this pointless signaling of virtues and instead address the problem of their toxic culture.

Before you bring up the profiles of women who have succeeded, perhaps you should look at women who have resigned or been forced to leave without warning.


“In short, it was a nightmare.”

Amy (not her real name) joined as a partner, received no clients when she arrived, and had to find her own. Without the help of his colleagues.

When he found some clients, he was not allowed to visit them. One of her best clients was told not to contact her.

When a senior partner left, they gave him all his clients, but he was charged with all cancellations and all income was recognized in his name.

The firm he joined “is a boys’ club, they play golf together, they visit each other’s farms.”

They told her that staff were complaining about her, but when she went to Human Resources they didn’t know about this.

“It was a racist and sexist environment. I was a tortured soul. It was booked for a month. ”

Read: Men and women view sexual harassment in the workplace differently


After a long period of not being able to take leave due to work pressures, Emma (not her real name) applied for leave. The manager was sarcastic, accusing her of saying goodbye only when it suited her.

Emma said the manager was always questioning her, a mistake would be amplified, and the knives were constantly out. She was sworn in loudly and accused of being useless in a company function by a senior associate.

When asked about HR, Emma said HR is there to protect the company. “He is an accessory to a cover-up.”

Emma questioned how these men can have mothers, wives and daughters, but in the workplace they put this aside.

He asked if it is necessary to take courses on “how to survive the male ego.”

The triggers?

If a woman outperforms the men, the knives come out. It is worse if you earn the highest rates.

Some men bully because they can, and the stronger and smarter she is, the greater the satisfaction in demeaning her.

Not all victims leave in silence. Some have fought back, putting their careers at risk. But they will rise again.

Slowly but surely, this toxic culture must end.


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