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Big Four bullies bite the dust

Bullying has raised its ugly head in the accountancy profession. Philip Fisher believes that it is time to stamp out this heinous practice once and for all.

18th Mar 2021
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An image depicting an office bully
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There seems to be a general consensus amongst the population that bullying is a bad thing.

Parents are no longer able to hit children, teachers cannot cane pupils and whenever bullying in the workplace is discussed, the nation reacts with horror. You might very reasonably have thought that bullying was fast becoming a historical anomaly.

Instead, every week the newspapers seem able to conjure up another story of dubious behaviour whether it be by a cabinet minister leading to a £340,000 settlement (though to be fair this was made without admitting guilt) or senior management from 50% of the Big Four.

Yet again, our admirable profession is giving the impression of being populated by dinosaurs who do not realise that we have left the 19th-century far behind, let alone the 20th.

First, KPMG’s Chairman Bill Michael was forced to resign in ignominious circumstances having been recorded making derogatory statements about coronavirus, his staff and working attitudes more widely.

Another Big Four bullying scandal

Many readers might not have been that surprised to learn that one rogue Australian was still hanging around the halls of power at a top firm of chartered accountants.

However, rather than a one-off, that story has now arguably been trumped by the tale of Dimple Agarwal at Deloitte. To quote AccountingWEB’s article last week: “Deloitte deputy CEO and diversity champion Dimple Agarwal stepped down following allegations of bullying from over a dozen members of staff.”

Anyone who didn’t know better would have imagined that this was some kind of ironic, slightly premature April Fools’ Day joke. Instead, it shines another spotlight on what sounds like an extraordinarily tawdry profession.

Not only was Agarwal the firm’s deputy CEO at the time but the punchline comes with her secondary role as diversity and inclusion supremo.

The only reasonable conclusion anyone could draw does not make happy reading for the profession.

If the powers that be at a representative sample of industry leaders care nothing about modern attitudes towards workplace relationships, then presumably bullying is endemic in the world of accountancy.

When the story was just about KPMG's Michael, it might have been possible to conclude that someone had forgotten to weed out the nasty old Aussie bloke. However, Agarwal should have been a shining role model and champion responsible for amongst other things staff wellbeing and ethnic and gender equality. You could cry.

As a victim of bullying

Over the years, I have very occasionally been a victim of workplace bullying, which probably puts me in exactly the same place as everyone else who has had a reasonably long career. I have witnessed far more of it and it is always distasteful.

Not only is there a great personal cost but bullies are also likely to have a negative impact on a practice’s financial performance.

Frequently the bullied will move on, which has its own cost in terms of recruitment and training replacements.

Like the civil servant, victims will also often receive significant pay-outs after lengthy legal battles that are expensive in terms of both financial cost and management time.

These incidents create a bad atmosphere which can often lead to substandard performance for a number of reasons, for example fomenting what has been described as “a staff revolt” against Michael and which led to his resignation from KPMG.

Readers may be surprised to learn that, to date, while Dimple Agarwal has given up her leadership positions, she apparently remains in position as a partner at Deloitte.

Take a stand against bullying

Given the way that public attitudes have changed in recent times, it is astonishing that once again the accountancy profession, which is supposed to be a model of respectability, is in the vanguard when it comes to bad behaviour.

Surely it is time for industry leaders to make a concerted and very public stand against bullying, weed out perpetrators and empower whistle-blowers to help eradicate this terrible blight once and for all.

Replies (2)

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By FirstTab
23rd Mar 2021 10:38

I would like to hear Ms Agarwal side before jumping to any conclusions.

Deloitte's key objective is to protect its brand. NOT to present both sides of the case.

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By Carole Baldwin
23rd Mar 2021 14:17

I would not normally take pleasure in the downfall of others - but in the case of the "big 4" I will make an exception. This is just the tip of the seedy disreputable behaviour of the professions bully boys.

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