[UPDATE/Jason Bramwell] The Telegraph reported this past weekend that Deloitte UK gave its former diversity and inclusion chief, Dimple Agarwal, around £8 million last year after an internal investigation cleared her of bullying staff. Reports began to surface overseas on March 4, 2021, that she had resigned from Deloitte following the bullying accusations against her. (See original version of this article below.)
According to The Telegraph:
Complaints were received that Ms Agarwal was aggressive towards staff on calls and in emails and that she demanded they work long hours, with calls before dawn and late at night.
Before her resignation, Ms Agarwal spearheaded the accounting giant’s drive on diversity and inclusion, including campaigns on parental leave, mental wellbeing and ethnic and gender equality.
An investigation into the complaints against Ms Agarwal resulted in no findings of bullying. City sources said that Ms Agarwal had received severance pay of between £7m and £8m.
In a post on LinkedIn last month, Agarwal wrote that the situation at Deloitte was an “unexpected vicious attempt to take my life apart. It did. Only for a year though as I wouldn’t give them more control of what was to happen to me.” She also claimed she experienced racism and sexism at Deloitte. “I write this only because I know many of you have and are experiencing racism and sexism. I went through the worst form – worst because I didn’t experience it (or didn’t pay attention to it) for many years so it landed in a very cold and sharp way…from people I trusted. I stumbled but I picked myself up with a strong belief in myself, a conviction that gave me strength and courage to expose the truth – with the help of many…friends, family, lawyers, doctors. I stood as one…against many, against power.”
Here is her full LinkedIn post:
Today is the first anniversary of an unexpected vicious attempt to take my life apart. It did. Only for a year though as I wouldn’t give them more control of what was to happen to me.
I write this only because I know many of you have and are experiencing racism and sexism. I went through the worst form – worst because I didn’t experience it (or didn’t pay attention to it) for many years so it landed in a very cold and sharp way…from people I trusted. I stumbled but I picked myself up with a strong belief in myself, a conviction that gave me strength and courage to expose the truth – with the help of many…friends, family, lawyers, doctors. I stood as one…against many, against power.
Moving on….in just a few months I have packed in what I love to do most. The universe has conspired to give me opportunities I would not have had otherwise. I have joined the board of a school for underprivileged girls in the middle of a desert in my home state in India, I have joined the advisory council of the largest NGO in girls education, I am currently volunteering in the Himalayas to research on human rights and the impact of environmental degradation on communities, I have started my journey of reforestation. I am trying to connect organisations and people so we can make water available in dry villages, am supporting a women’s empowerment initiative focused on teaching them skills to sustain themselves since they can’t take to farming due to lack of water. I have rekindled my own initiative of giving underprivileged children and women the opportunity to travel and learn. And I’m looking forward to a lot more. The journey has only just begun. Now what’s more meaningful?! What I did then or what I’m doing now?
I am brown, I am a woman, I am an immigrant. Wouldn’t want to be anything else. I have more strength and courage than ever before. A gift given to me by circumstances created by people who didn’t want to see me succeed.
For all those of you facing discrimination, or being pulled down….take courage and don’t let it define you. If anything, stand up for yourself (as you will sadly find many won’t stand up for you) and open the many doors waiting to be flung open. Translate your hopes into reality by using your inner strength – we all have it. Your life is yours – don’t let colleagues or bosses or organisations define it for you.
Happy international women’s day for 8th of March. #IWD2022
[Article originally posted on March 8, 2021.]
The big news last week in the UK wasn’t the sale of KPMG’s restructuring unit but the resignation of Dimple Agarwal, Deloitte’s diversity and inclusion chief. The resignation attracted widespread attention as Agarwal allegedly harassed younger staff and spoke aggressively to them.
Agarwal’s resignation came less than a month after Bill Michael stepped down as chairman and senior partner of KPMG after some of his staff complained about a few of the straight-talking Australian’s comments during a Zoom town hall meeting in early February.
In Agarwal’s case, when such provocative words such as “harassment” and “aggression” are used, it evokes all sorts of images, like an audit trainee given a dressing down in front of his or her peers for shoddy work but left feeling humiliated and downtrodden, or a partner shouting at a senior associate for failing to “manage expectations” and delivering a piece of work late and over budget. Yet the critique left the associate feeling upset and bereft of confidence. So what was the detail on Agarwal’s rapsheet? Agarwal asked trainees to attend very early morning meetings.
Unfortunately The Telegraph article that broke the news of the allegations against Agarwal does not give a precise time when these meetings were held but they were allegedly before dawn. One can appreciate that if Agarwal had arranged a town hall call for 5 a.m. on the summer solstice, this wouldn’t have been well-received. If however the call was scheduled for the winter solstice in December, there wouldn’t be cause for much complaint.
Nevertheless as Deloitte’s head of people and purpose, Agarwal was responsible for promoting diversity and mental well-being at the firm. It was reported that this included initiatives such as paid leave for new “non-birthing parents.” Yet the complaints racked up—12 from a total UK workforce of 20,000. Perhaps certain people’s well-being had been affected by a work-related incident and they sought redress?
It is unlikely that we will ever know the precise circumstances. However, don’t today’s trainees realize they are entering into a “Faustian pact” when they walk through the doors of a Big 4 firm? Isn’t the contract along the lines of “We will pay for your training and you will be exposed to Tier 1 clients. It is expected that when you leave, you will have Big 4 on your resume and the letters ACA (or CPA) after your name, but between now and then, we own you.” Hasn’t it always been so? Year in and year out, there are stories about busy season and audit staff working to silly o’clock to meet statutory deadlines.
Of course, genuine bullying or harassment has no place in the workplace, but aren’t the millennials and Generation Z (MAGZ) forgetting that work is work? You will be critiqued. You will be called out, especially if you make an error or are at fault. No point complaining or blaming your employer if you err. Hopefully as you progress, the mistakes become less and you become the well-rounded employee you always dreamed of being.
To quote the famous entrepreneur Eddie Temple: “You’re born, you take shit. You get out in the world, you take more shit. You climb a little higher, you take less shit. Till one day you’re up in the rarefied atmosphere and you’ve forgotten what shit even looks like.”
And to quote our other learned friends, Run DMC: “That’s just the way it is!”
About the author:
Tim Ames is an accountant based in the UK.