Deloitte shows how the ‘woke’ workplace is destroying itself
Big companies that buy into political correctness have to roll over whenever they are accused of acting improperly, risking a brain drain at consulting firms.
She championed the cause of “respect, dignity and belonging for all”. She pushed for extra leave for “non-birthing parents”. She led a “mission on neurodiversity” for the company, and she brought in Gwyneth Paltrow to introduce a mandatory “ketogenic plant-based diet” for the staff canteen. OK, I made that last one up. But the others were all policies pushed by Dimple Agarwal, Deloitte’s deputy UK chief executive and its head of “people and purpose”.
And yet now, she has resigned her leadership roles, after complaints from staff of bullying and harassment. Like Bill Michael at KPMG, who told staff to “stop moaning”, she was toast as soon as the story broke. At this rate, there soon won’t be anyone left at the big audit and consulting companies.
The trouble is, this is getting out of hand. Perhaps Agarwal was a horrible person to work for, and perhaps she wasn’t. Even so, the woke workplace is increasingly devouring itself.
By embracing a politically correct agenda, companies are creating anarchy where there should be leadership. And, perhaps most importantly of all, after a year of lockdown, many workplaces are going a little haywire, with bosses lashing out and staff turning mutinous. In truth, everyone needs to get back to checking accounts, fixing tax returns and reconfiguring supply chains, or whatever it is the business they work for actually does – and agree wokery and business are a bad combination.
Agarwal was probably always inviting trouble. When you make a big thing about championing diversity and inclusion and speak up for every fashionable cause you can think of, yet at the same time hold down a big position at a company such as Deloitte, then your own behaviour is always likely to come under intense, and perhaps unwelcome, scrutiny.
According to reports in the London Telegraph, staff have accused her of bullying, of organising extremely early meetings despite all the stuff about work-life balance, and speaking “aggressively” to workers.
It is a very different story, in some ways, to Michael, the head of Deloitte’s great rival KPMG, who was forced out after criticising unconscious bias training (“crap” in his blunt, native Australian), and telling staff to “stop moaning”. And yet there are three big problems that both sagas neatly show.
First, by embracing a woke agenda, companies are empowering staff to remove any senior manager they don’t like.
We don’t know what Agarwal was like to work with. Like many bosses, she was probably occasionally great, often average, and sometimes a nightmare. The trouble is, it is too easy to undermine a senior manager by throwing accusations of politically incorrect attitudes at them. Not happy with your pay rise? Accuse your manager of disrespecting transgender rights. Stuck with some dull, difficult clients? Complain that your supervisor made a racially insensitive remark. These things are hard to prove one way or another, and in a climate of extreme sensitivity the chances are they will be gone within days. No one will be safe.
Even worse, the woke ideology is based on perceived oppression, a victim culture where everyone can claim special status, and an obsession with power imbalances where even the idea of a “boss” is suspicious. The result? Big companies that buy into wokedom have to roll over whenever they are accused of acting improperly or unfairly by staff. That might work, sort of, on a university campus but it is fatal for a business. It will turn into anarchy. After all, organisations need to be led from the top but that is impossible when staff can witch-hunt anyone out of work in an instant.
Next, many business and professional companies have created a box-ticking culture where form matters more than substance.
It is very similar to the corporate social responsibility racket. Giants such as Volkswagen were winning lots of awards for all they were doing for society, at the same time as systematically cheating on emissions standards. Likewise, companies that make a big song and dance about diversity often don’t bother to live up to it in practice. In truth, everyone within a company should be making sure it is respectful and diverse as part of their day-to-day responsibilities.
When you bundle it up, and make it the job of one senior manager, no one has to take responsibility for it – and that is when the problems start.
Finally, it tells us something significant about the weird year we have all been living through.
After 12 months of lockdown and working from the kitchen table, fatigue has started to set in. Managers don’t trust their people to pull their weight and are starting to lash out (or organising 6am meetings to keep everyone on their toes). Staff are fed up, and feel they are being slighted, or ignored, and lose motivation.