ONE of Ireland's largest accountancy firms last night launched an internal investigation after male staff were found circulating emails where they rated the looks of their female colleagues.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) started the probe after pictures of young women, who had just recently joined the firm, were sent around and nominated for a "Top 10".
The emails were circulated between a group of up to 17 male staff members within PWC before being forwarded to other businesses as the emails went "viral", spreading across the internet.
The 13 women, whose pictures were accompanied by their names and departments, all recently joined the accountancy firm as trainee accountants or "associates" and are expected to train with the company for the next three years.
The offending emails were traced and are being examined by senior management at PWC, sources confirmed.
The initial email sent around by the group of men had a subject line of "this would be my shortlist for the top 10".
A subsequent comment in the forwarded email says: "Great work... have reservations about the last one getting in."
In one message, a highly derogatory female description is used about the "new" intake.
One of the men who forwarded on the pictures asked for his email signature be removed if it was forwarded again.
Last night, the accountancy firm -- which employs 2,000 people in Ireland -- launched an investigation into the matter after they were informed of the emails by the Irish Independent.
The emails have been forwarded to finance companies, accountants, law firms, technology firms, state bodies and construction firms around Ireland since they were first written at the end of October.
"We are taking this matter extremely seriously and are launching a full investigation. We will take all necessary steps and actions in line with our firm's polices and procedures," PWC's human resources partner Carmel O'Connor said last night.
A number of the women whose pictures were circulated have recently graduated from prominent universities.
Graduate trainees at the firm typically stay for between three and three-and-a-half years where they work as accountants.
Ms O'Connor said the men who had been involved in the circulation of the emails had not yet been contacted about the matter.
She declined to comment on what the ultimate sanction would be as a result of the investigation.
UK-based PWC is the second largest accountancy firm in the world and one of the so-called "Big Four" which provide services to most large companies.
The company previously acted as auditor for Anglo Irish Bank and a team from the company was sent to Allied Irish Banks recently by the National Treasury Management Agency.
PWC is no stranger to controversy overseas. The company paid millions to former partner Christina Rich in Australia two years ago following a long-running dispute over claims she had been exposed to sexual harassment and sex discrimination.
The company's website lists a code of conduct for the firm which includes "behaving professionally" and "respecting others".