Late last week, South China Morning Post reported that a consultant at EY Hong Kong has accused Steven Xiong, Head of Greater China Business Consulting, of sexually harassing and assaulting her and another colleague at a karaoke bar. It appears the accuser, Nicole Wang, has written a detailed account of the incident in which she states that a female senior manager facilitated and encouraged the harassment. That account was shared on r/consulting and is transcribed in its entirety without editing below.
Dear Partners and Leaders,
I am Nicole Wang, a manager from Hong Kong Core Business Consulting – Supply Chain & Operations Team. Hearby I would like to report Steven Xiong, the senior partner in Greater China, who sexually has harassed me and my colleague. In addition to Hong Kong SC&O Consulting Team Director Hilbert Tsang and Senior Manager Florence tang for using female subordinates as sexual resources for the benefit of their superior, as well as workplace bullying behaviors including maliciously smearing and stigmatizing victims afterwards. It is a pity to get in touch with you for such a reason, and I hope you can take a few minutes to read this email.
At 9:00 pm on February 8, 2023, I received a message from Florence Tang to invite me to a KTV party at 9:30 in Causeway Bay with Steven Xiong. There were Nelson Chow (Hong Kong partner of my team), Hilbert Tsang, Florence Tang and Steven Xiong in the room.
During this period, another five or six colleagues joined us one after another. I sat and chatted with Steven, and he asked to add me on WeChat. Florence took the lead in making inappropriate jokes, for example: “Nicole (myself) is single, she lives alone, Boss Xiong can go to her house tonight.” Although I felt that it was uncomfortable to make such a joke in front of a senior leader whom I met for the first time, I did not want to affect the current atmosphere, so I laughed it off with everyone.
It was later learned that Hilbert called and sent messages several times at around 8:00 and 10:40 that night to urge another junior female colleague A, who was working overtime, to come to “accompany the boss” as soon as possible, even though A was working overtime at the client company until late that night. He said: “I was very drunk with the big boss, you come faster!” “Boss Xiong is very drunk now, he will agree to anything you say.” But he did not urge to invite other male colleagues to come. It is obvious that he has a clear choice and direction for who needs to come and “accompany the boss”.
A arrived at the scene around 11pm. As soon as she entered the room, Hilbert told her, “Sit down next to the big boss.” Then he arranged for her to sit on Steven’s right. Florence said to Steven after A sat down: “Boss Xiong can hug her!”
The “joke” gradually escalated. Florence asked Steven loudly many times, “Do you like Nicole or A more?” Steven answered A for a few times then answered Nicole for a few times, and gradually began to say loudly, “My favorite is Nicole”, “She is my type”, “I have feelings”. I can only answer: “Thank you boss for your appreciation.”
Nelson (Hong Kong partner of the team) left around 11:15.
The situation suddenly escalated at an unimaginable speed.
Steven, Hilbert, another female colleague and I sat together and sang a few songs together. During the period, Steven, who was sitting on my right, moved his left hand to my waist, and then he started to move his hand upwards. I realized that Things got serious, I started twisting my body and clamping my arms to stop it. He didn’t stop and his left hand turned around to catch my shoulder and slid to my breast to caress. I twisted more and grabbed his hand to stop it. He took my hand easily. Sweating all over from fright, I felt he kissed my face. Then he tried to put his hand through the bottom of my clothes. I couldn’t bear it and turned my head to him and said, “Steven, no.” He kept trying and didn’t stop until I repeated it. Finally he got up and went to the bathroom.
I was still in shock, and a few colleagues sitting on the left immediately came to ask me if I was ok. Only then did I know that the colleagues sitting on my left felt my gradually increasing movement. They suggested to go to the bathroom and switch seats with me when I came back.
When I got up to go to the toilet, I passed by Hilbert and said, “I can’t take it anymore, let’s end it as soon as possible.” He immediately rejected my requests, and I said, “His wandering hands are all over me.” He lightly smiled and said, “Oh really?”
I told the female colleague who rescued me in the toilet what had happened in detail and said that we had to pay the bill and leave immediately. After returning to the room a few minutes later, I found that Steven had already thrown himself on A who was sitting on his right.
According to A’s description afterwards, Steven suddenly put both his arms around her. One of the arms went around her shoulder to touch her breast. She kept trying to pull it away but felt Steven insisting strongly. At this time, she began to ask Florence and another male colleague for help. Florence, the only female executive in the room, not only did not help, but also pointed her mobile phone at A and Steven. Only the male colleague came over and suggested go home with A. During the period, two female colleagues also offered to toast with Steven and take a group photo so that A can escape.
I found out afterwards that one of the female colleagues couldn’t stand it anymore and asked Hilbert to pay the bill to end the night several times. Hilbert finally agreed, and Florence said to the female colleague: “The real world is this dark.”
Before leaving the room, Steven stood up and hugged A again (more than 10 seconds). Then he came to hug me, and he tried to find my lips. I was able to escape by blocking with my hands. A told me afterwards that Steven also tried to kiss her while hugging.
Before leaving the room, Steven asked me: “Nicole, you are not going to send me back to the hotel?” I said it’s not on my way home and rejected.
The evening was over, but the bullying and malice continued.
Florence said below words on the taxi home, in front of three other colleagues:
“I think Nicole was enjoying it.”
“Actually, who knows if she wants to go higher position through this, I saw her exchanged WeChat with the boss as soon as she came.”
“Nicole is not young, she must have experience with these men and women’s physical contact. So she much [sic] know where are the boundaries. From my understanding, if she doesn’t say no then it’s tacit consent.”
The night is over. This incident had a serious impact on the body and mind of A and me. We were depressed and negative for several days in a row, and A could still feel the StevenAt that time, she squeezed her breasts hard, and decided to seek help from a psychiatrist.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is the unscrupulous bullying and trampling of subordinates by superiors using resources and power. Nowadays, Metoo Movement is in full swing around the world, and the voices supporting women in society are deafening. As an executive who has worked in a top multinational auditing and consulting firm for more than ten years, they can use their power and position to make such indecent and shameless actions and make such indifferent and vicious remarks in public. It’s really shocking.
The reason why the book “Black Box: Shame of Japan” is called “Shame of Japan” is because this incident is by no means the shame of a male perpetrator, but the shame of the whole system of society, judiciary, administration, and media. Judging from this incident I experienced, the perpetrator is certainly shameful, but the organizers, instigators, cold-eyed bystanders, whitewashers are even more shameful. It is also a shame to the team’s values and culture, and a shame to the performance appraisal system for promotion and salary increase.
Steven directly manages SC&O in Greater China including Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan team. He has the direct power of deciding Hilbert and Florence’s promotion, in my team in Hong Kong, everyone knows that apart from the partner, Hilbert and Florence have the absolute power of deciding the performance appraisal and promotion for the team. Steven’s behavior is certainly shameful, but the development of the situation is absolutely inseparable from Hilbert and Florence who has actively organized, abetted and contributed by calling and urging female colleagues to come to entertain the boss and encourage the boss to have physical contact with female colleagues in extended work occasions. When the sexual harassment happened, these two, as the core leaders of the team in the room, not only did not immediately stop and protect their subordinates, but were happy to see the success of their plan. After what happened, Florence still tried to stigmatize the victims to excuse what they did. Till now, these two are still obsessed with it and don’t take it seriously. The next day after the incident, they have already started to arrange the “Team Dinner with Steven” in March.
After the incident, I kept thinking that all the male executives have daughters. And the senior manager who smeared the victims afterwards is also a woman. Did they ever think that their daughters would enter the workplace on day? Can they accept their daughter being treated like this? Do they speculate that maybe their daughter enjoys it and uses it as a shortcut to the top? Would they blame their daughter for not refusing immediately? Will they encourage their daughters to stand up to identify the perpetrators, and speak out bravely for women? I am really confused.
I joined the Big 4 Consulting Firm when I graduated and have worked in the Big 4 for nearly 7 years. During these years, I have been working diligently, performing well, and treating my subordinates kindly. Colleagues from the previous Big 4 firm and EY who have worked with me are all aware of my character and conduct. I have repeatedly expressed my recognition of the Big 4 corporate culture and employee values in private and in public, but I did not expect to be trampled on by the regional senior executives and be used as sexual resources by my direct superiors. I also feel extremely disappointed and saddened by the organizers and abettors who watched with cold eyes and slandered maliciously.
The education I have received and the value I hold do not allow me to swallow my anger and let things go. I cannot tolerate the existence of such people, behaviors, words, and values in the world of 2023. I cannot tolerate being trampled and maliciously smeared in a team that I used to love and trust so much. And I cannot tolerate seeing the junior who has only worked for less than two years feeling overwhelmed by such bullying. I had to speak out. If I don’t, these perpetrators, organizers and bystanders will continue to rely on their positions to distort the facts, bully more weak people, continue to smear the victims, promote the theory that the victims are guilty, and continue to contribute to the toxic team culture and influence EY core values and corporate image.
I was planning to report this after I resign, but I couldn’t sleep at night and had to fight back immediately. I am not as senior as these people and my voice might be soft, but I understand in the core values of the Big 4 in and out. I have reason to trust EY, and I have reason to believe that the senior management team can hear my voice and uphold justice for us. We are not wrong, why should we be afraid?
I hope that the firm will not only severely punish the perpetrators, but also the organizers, instigators and malicious smearers. I do not accept any apology or compensation. I just hope that the truth can be restored, justice will be given to the victims, fairness can be given to women in the workplace. And the upright corporate values, culture full of justice and a safe working environment can be given to all EY coworkers.
On the r/consulting thread, a user who says they have worked with everyone named in Nicole’s letter shares some info about these colleagues and the overall culture at the firm:
This email from EY China Chairman Jack Chan addressing the accusations has not been verified, though parts of it are referenced in the South China Morning Post report. It too has been transcribed in its entirety.
Subject: Greater China leadership communication to all people
17 February 2023 at 20:42
I am sure most of us are aware of a recent serious ethics report relating to sexual harassment claims against a partner circulating in the social and news media.
I appreciate that many of you may be concerned and would like to know what is happening. On behalf of the Greater China Leadership Team (GCLT), I would like to communicate with you directly to address this serious matter.
At EY, our Global Code of Conduct provides an ethical framework for everyone in the organization, regardless of their individual role, position or practice. We understand that deviation from, or violations of, the Code are unacceptable and that we must speak up whenever we are aware of such behavior. I and the GCLT cannot express enough that Greater China has a zero-tolerance position with regards to unethical behavior, and are committed to upholding our core values, including integrity and respect. There is no compromise nor negotiation as we stand against any such action of behavior.
EY has created a support network that is available for consultation and advice, to help each of us live up to our commitments under the Code. This includes our provision of an Ethics Hotline allowing a means to report safely any activity or behavior that is inconsistent with our Global Code of Conduct. All reports received will be given careful attention by the organization to ensure matters raised in the reports are thoroughly investigated in strict confidence.
We can confirm that this recent ethic report has been received internally and we have commenced a formal process to look expeditiously and comprehensively into the matters raised in the report. Pending the results of a thorough and impartial investigation, any identified breach of the Code will result in strong, decisive and proportionate disciplinary actions.
We have also arranged for immediate and continued support and counselling for the concerned personnel.
I am sure we all agree that we need to respect the personal privacy of our people throughout this process and therefore we are unable to share additional details of this matter.
Let’s work together to build a workplace culture that is free from harassment and where everyone feels safe and respected.
Thank you for your attention.
This is not the first time EY and sexual harassment have been together in the same sentence, and in fact the firm has had several incidents over the last couple years around the globe. I’ve included links to these stories below.
We commend Nicole for her bravery in speaking up and hope justice is adequately served. We’ll keep you updated on any developments.