KPMG’s UK chair, Bill Michael, has resigned after telling staff to “stop moaning” during a virtual meeting about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, where he also called unconscious bias “crap”.
Michael, who has headed the company since 2017, was speaking at a virtual town hall meeting on Monday with members of the firm’s financial services consulting team when he made the comments.
The 52-year-old Australian, who told staff to stop “playing the victim card” and described the concept of unconscious bias as being “complete and utter crap for years”, apologised and said on Friday the scandal over his comments had made his position at the accounting giant “untenable”.
Michael said: “I love the firm and I am truly sorry that my words have caused hurt among my colleagues and for the impact the events of this week have had on them. In light of that, I regard my position as untenable and so I have decided to leave the firm. It has been a privilege to have acted as chair of KPMG. I feel hugely proud of all our people and the things they have achieved, particularly during these very challenging times.”
Pressure on Michael over his comments had increased during the week, as more details emerged of what he said to staff in the online meeting, which was attended by about a third of the 1,500-strong team.
On Wednesday, Michael, who was paid £1.7m last year, stepped aside after the accounting company launched an independent investigation, run by the City law firm Linklaters, as the scandal erupted when his comments at the virtual meeting were made public.
During the call, Michael, who was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in March last year, apologised to staff who had criticised his choice of words. He also later apologised in a separate email to all members of the consulting team.
However, his apology was not enough to prevent insiders leaking details of his comments, including a video that was published by Mail Online.
In the video, Michael said: “There is no such thing as unconscious bias, I don’t buy it. Because after every single unconscious bias training that has ever been done, nothing’s ever improved.”
Employees shared their shock at his comments in the app used to run the event. The Guardian has seen screenshots of some of these comments, where several staff expressed their disappointment at Michael’s words.
One worker wrote: “There’s no such thing as unconscious bias?! Are you joking? Please do your research before just making such statements. Check your privilege.”
KPMG said that it would undertake a “leadership election” to replace Michael in due course.
It had previously brought in two female partners to temporarily replace Michael while his comments were investigated. The senior elected board member Bina Mehta has stepped into the role of acting UK chair, while Mary O’Connor has become the senior partner. It is the first time that either role has been occupied by a woman in the 150-year history of the firm.
“Bill has made a huge contribution to our firm over the last 30 years, especially over the last three years as chairman, and we wish him all the best for the future,” Mehta said.
Michael’s departure was no surprise, after he failed to meet the standard required of leaders, said Gemma McCall, the chief executive of Culture Shift, a software business that helps organisations to monitor and prevent bullying and harassment.
“Leaders really do need to take heed and exceed expectations when it comes to creating safe and supported environments for all employees,” McCall said. “Organisations should absolutely be putting equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of their practices and this should be coming from board level down.”
— to www.theguardian.com