The big news last week in the U.K. 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 U.K. 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 U.K.