Ernst & Young is one of the largest and most prestigious accounting firms currently in operation.
It's also found itself in the middle of a scandal so ridiculous and laughable that all that prestige may not be enough to save their rep.
Let's just say this is a human resources and public relations nightmare. And it was completely avoidable.
It's common for large corporations to offer yearly training seminars to their executives. It's common for those training sessions to briefly cover things like communication styles and proper office attire for execs.
It's far less common—and in no way acceptable—for that training to include incredibly sexist tips geared towards women. Or for those tips to be so offensively out of touch that they seem like they were pulled from a 1940's magazine geared towards being a submissive housewife.
The higher ups at Ernst & Young decided to devote an entire 2018 training session to "advising" their female executives on how to properly dress, act and speak around their male counterparts.
Yeah, the tips from this "female empowerment" training were absolutely as bad as you think. We couldn't pick our favorite offensive nuggets, so we put together a "fun" little highlights reel.
Oh, and lest you think this was a brief section of training that just missed the mark, we need to explain exactly how extensive and purposeful this was. These highlights come from a FIFTY FIVE PAGE BOOKLET given to the female executives for a seminar covering specifically this material.
That seminar, called Power, Presence, Purpose took the 30-ish attendees a day and a half to complete.
Prepare to be blown away, but not in a good way.
Brace to be blown away by the bull.
- Women's brains absorb information like pancakes absorb syrup, so it's harder for them to focus. Men are better at focusing because their brains work more like waffles and they can put information into little squares.
- "Don't flaunt your body - sexuality scrambles the mind..."
- The most important thing women can do is signal fitness and wellness
- Avoid being a "bottle blond"
- Don't speak to men face-to-face as men find that threatening
- Women's brains are about 10% smaller than men's
- The only way to succeed is to "work around" the men
- Women should avoid having a high-pitched voice
- Women often ramble and miss the point while speaking
Well it's about to get worse.
We mentioned this particular training session happened in 2018, but it's important to offer a frame of reference as to why.
2018 was the height of the "Me Too" movement—focused on acknowledging ongoing sexual harassment and assaults faced by many women. A large part of the cultural moment centered around sexist, misogynist and downright rapey ideas and behaviors allowed in the work place.
Ernst & Young itself was caught up in the middle of the scandal thanks to the companies handling (or non-handlng) of a sexual assault between executives. The incident happened in 2015 at a bar in New York.
Several of the firm partners were present at the bar when John Martinkat assaulted fellow partner Jessica Casucci—doing so visibly in front of at least two other partners. After learning that this wasn't the first time something like this had happened, Jessica filed a complaint with the company.
The company opted to not fire Mr. Martinkat. Instead, it was Ms. Casucci who, essentially, had to start over and "rebuild her entire book of business from scratch" in order to avoid working with Mr. Martinkat on future projects.
Ernst & Young also required Ms. Casucci to speak to an outside attorney that they hired and would not offer her any promise of employment or reputation protection over the incident.
The company did not take any action against Mr. Martinkat until Jessica Casucci went public with her experience. Only then, under public pressure, did they fire him.
So with all of that going on, the company thought it was a good idea to present a seminar to, essentially, treat women in the workplace as a problem in need of fixing.
A disgusted participant anonymously released the documentation to the media.
Ernst & Young initially refused to comment outside of saying that the seminar was put together by an outside person and is no longer offered in exactly this way.
Yeah, that sounds like owning your mistakes, making a sincere apology and finding a way to avoid repeating the behavior. Maybe someone has a seminar that can teach Ernst & Young how.
On Tuesday, after considerable backlash, Ernst & Young admitted they should probably not have offered the seminar.
In a statement sent to The Huffington Post they said:
"There is no question that elements of the program included offensive content that is inconsistent with our core beliefs."
Better, but maybe go with "no part of this was OK" in the next version.
Pulitzer prize winning journalist Ronan Farrow's book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, available here, tells the story of his work to uncover the long running abuse by powerful men like Harvey Weinstein that helped launch the #MeToo movement.
Have you listened to the first season of George Takei's podcast, 'Oh Myyy Pod!'?
In season one we explored the racially charged videos that have taken the internet by storm.
We're hard at work on season two so be sure to subscribe here so you don't miss it when it goes live.
Here's one of our favorite episodes from season one. Enjoy!