Ernst & Young reportedly said the workshop "should not have been offered to any of our women"

By Rachel DeSantis
October 23, 2019 11:05 AM
Ernst & Young
Jack Taylor/Getty

A Big Four accounting firm has apologized amid reports it put female executives through a sexist training session, in which they were discouraged from “flaunting” their bodies so male colleagues could focus and were told to follow traditionally “feminine” characteristics in the workplace.

In June 2018, Ernst & Young hosted 30 employees at a voluntary day-and-a-half long training session titled Power-Presence-Purpose at its new office in Hoboken, New Jersey, where the employees reportedly received a 55-page presentation later shared with HuffPost.

The seminar was reportedly focused on the behaviors and improvements women needed to make in order to better fit in to Ernst & Young’s male-dominated workforce, and covered everything from appropriate clothing styles to ways of speaking.

Women were encouraged to be “polished” and have a “good haircut, manicured nails, well-cut attire that complements your body type,” and were also told not to flaunt their bodies, as “sexuality scrambles the mind,” HuffPost reported.

One attendee told the outlet that showing skin was also discouraged because male colleagues would be unable to focus “because of sex.”

In addition to the presentation, the women were also given a list of unwritten rules that urged them to speak briefly, because they “often ramble and miss the point” during work discussions, HuffPost reported.

Prior to the workshop, attendees were reportedly asked to complete a “Masculine/Feminine Score Sheet,” in which they ranked how well they adhered to traits stereotypically associated with either men or women. Characteristics on the male side included things like “acts like a leader,” “aggressive,” “athletic,” and “independent,” while the female side included “eager to soothe hurt feelings,” “shy,” “understanding,” “loves children” and “cheerful.”

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The attendee who spoke with HuffPost said the message that accompanied the test was that women who did not adhere to stereotypically female characteristics would be penalized. She also noted that during the seminar, she was instructed to never talk to a man face-to-face so as not to threaten him.

Though the training was not focused on sexual assault and harassment, it did come one month after Ernst & Young settled a sexual assault lawsuit with former partner Jessica Casucci, who accused the firm of “failing to act when she reported that she was sexually assaulted by another partner,” Reuters reported.

A spokesperson for Ernst & Young — which did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment — told HuffPost the training program was created by an “external vendor,” and came after it was requested by some female employees.

The spokesperson said the program is “no longer offered in its current form.”

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In a lengthier statement to The Hill, a spokesperson said the workshop is under review and has been canceled.

“This voluntary program, which was delivered to a small group of EY professionals, does not reflect EY’s values or culture and should not have been offered to any of our women. To ensure this can never happen again, we are undertaking a comprehensive review of our processes and controls around program content as there is no question that elements of the program included offensive content that is inconsistent with our core beliefs,” the statement read.

It continued, “The women of EY thrive because of the strength of their character, the authenticity they display and their capabilities. We value and celebrate the differences of our people and do not advocate conformity among our people. We are incredibly proud of our women and our longstanding commitment to diversity, inclusion and creating a culture of belonging for all.”