The virtual trivia event, which took place last Thursday, saw one HR executive allegedly dressed up as a “bat from Wuhan” during a sketch, while another mocked Chinese accents.
Mr Seymour said the two racist and offensive sketches were unintentional but “thoughtless and harmful”, acknowledging that it caused “discomfort and offence” to those present during the event.
“A number of people shared their disappointment, frustration and anger about this event,” said Mr Seymour.
“On behalf of all the team at PwC, I am extremely disappointed that this incident has occurred.
“I am hugely disappointed we fell short of the standard we hold ourselves to. One of the best aspects of my career at PwC has been the opportunity to work with colleagues from all backgrounds, cultures and beliefs.”
The incident was first revealed on Instagram account The Aussie Corporate, with the big four firm’s leadership informed of the allegations last Friday.
An investigation by PwC’s people and ethical conduct panel has been initiated, with the firm also engaging independent legal advice on the issue.
The investigation is likely to be resolved by the end of the week, with further communication from the firm to follow.
Racism in the workplace is expressly forbidden under the Racial Discrimination Act, with the Fair Work Commission ruling in recent years that dismissals for such behaviour are not unreasonable, even if it was just “banter”.
According to the Australian Financial Review, the incident has left some PwC staff disillusioned with the firm. More than 44 per cent of employees at the big four firm are from a non-European cultural background, with the figure sitting at 17 per cent at its partnership level.
PwC’s chief diversity, inclusion and wellbeing officer, Julie McKay, explains on the firm’s website that diversity and inclusion is “fundamentally about our people’s wellbeing and sense of psychological safety and belonging”.
Mr Seymour, who briefed the firm on Tuesday morning, has also personally apologised to staff who were part of the virtual event.
“We have shared communications with our partners and staff reminding them to consider how our behaviour can impact others,” he said.
“Put simply, our ask is that our people put themselves in other people’s shoes.
“We aspire to be an inclusive and caring organisation. We have to work harder to meet this goal.”
Jotham Lian is the editor of Accountants Daily, the leading source of breaking news, analysis and insight for Australian accounting professionals.
Before joining the team in 2017, Jotham wrote for a range of national mastheads including the Sydney Morning Herald, and Channel NewsAsia.