About That Ernst & Young Article You May Have Read

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Hoboken was shaken after Huffington Post Women broke a story earlier this week about Mile Square-based company Ernst + Young offering a training seminar with seemingly misogynistic undertones. In this day and age, it’s not uncommon at all for women to share their various experiences with sexism in the workplace — especially online — and the impact of the #MeToo movement makes it clear: these experiences are common, frequent, and rampant.

#MeToo encouraged and empowered many women to come forward with their sexual assault and sexual misconduct stories — no matter if it took place in a work environment or otherwise. And yet, it is still alarming when another story of such misconduct breaks.

However, the EY story strikes a particular chord with locals, as the accounting firm is located at 121 River Street in Hoboken. Just a jump, hop, and a skip away from any one of us {with many in our community working there or close by}. It’s important to note that the Hoboken Girl team has reached out to E&Y’s media team and haven’t received any commentary or responses as of yet, but will update this article if we receive a response.

working woman EY

Hoboken Girl spoke to a former employee of EY {who found our contact through our Hoboken Girl Insiders group} who wished to remain anonymous. It’s important to note we tried to reach out to others who had taken the training as well, but according to this employee, “A very small percentage of women actually took this course at EY,” and contact with them as of yet has not been made.

“While this is not to say that the limited exposure makes this okay, it is worth noting that the news made it appear far wider-reaching than it actually was. Regardless, our stance at Hoboken Girl is that it’s quite alarming, inappropriate, and not okay if any of this took place, no matter how small the number of people in the training.

Our source, who says she did not take the PPP course, continues, “Never have I received information like this in a training, and I would be shocked and appalled if I did. Lastly, I was shocked by the dress recommendations: client environment permitting, we’re a jeans-friendly culture!”

The original article from Huff Post which you can read here — has been picked up by other big media names like InStyle and People, as well as also garnering some local coverage a la HG and PatchThe OG article even caused Ernst + Young to come forward with the admittance of wrongdoing and ultimately, an official apology.

But first, some background:

If you haven’t read the HP article, entitled “Women At Ernst & Young Instructed On How To Dress, Act Nicely Around Men,” we’ll give you a brief synopsis. The article alleges that in June 2018, 30 female executives at Ernst + Young {in the Hoboken, New Jersey location} received training. Some of the sentiments of this training — called PPP for Power-Presence-Purpose — allegedly include ideas like “sexuality scrambles the mind,” women shouldn’t “flaunt their bod[ies],” and women should have a “good haircut, manicured nails, well-cut attire that complements your body type.”

One of the more salacious statements allegedly included in the PPP training is the comparison of women to pancakes and men to waffles. An anonymous source, who Huffington Post calls Jane, revealed that the women in the meeting were told women’s brains are anywhere from 6 to 11 percent smaller than men’s; then, that “women’s brains absorb information like pancakes,” soaking up syrup “so it’s hard for them to focus.”

Men? They’re no pancakes!, according to PPP. They’re waffles; the syrup-information collects in each individual waffle square.

ernst-young

It’s important to note that this PPP training was not designed by EY, though allowed to allegedly happen, which is no excuse. It was actually a third-party vendor who brought the training to EY. According to our EY employee source, internal trainings are very vigorously vetted before they are given.

“EY has a rigorous process for all internal trainings: materials that must be submitted ahead of time along with a detailed agenda for review,” she says. “What surprised me here was that because this training was given by a third-party vendor, the same review process was not upheld. ”

If it’s true that training material is generally vetted at EY, it begs the question of why the PPP training was not looked at and approved beforehand.

When we asked our source if she had taken the PPP course, she said unequivocally no.

“And honestly you are unlikely to interview anyone who has,” our source says. “It was given to executive women within the advisory practice, basically the highest levels within one service offering of the firm, and according to an internal release on the matter, it impacted less than 0.5% of women at EY and about 30 firmwide per year.”

In the aftermath of the article {and subsequent articles that came after other outlets picked up the story}, Kelly Grier, the U.S. Chair and managing partner of Ernst + Young, came forward, acknowledging that “mistakes have been made.” Still, Grier stood by the company.

“Let me start by saying how deeply I regret the negative association that this program has had on EY in the media, and to acknowledge that mistakes have been made,” Grier said. “We celebrate differences and authenticity and the courage of conviction, and we encourage bold leadership and a culture of belonging.”

What’s more, Grier also acknowledged that if she had taken the “advice” of PPP, she wouldn’t be in such a top-tier spot in the company today.

“Had I heeded those aspects of the program, I can assure you that I would not be sitting here today as your U.S. chair,” she added.

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According to the original article, PPP listed off masculine traits as “acts as a leader,” “aggressive,” “ambitious,” “analytical,” “has leadership abilities,” “strong personality,” and “willing to take a stand.” Comparatively, feminine traits were listed as “affectionate,” “cheerful,” “childlike,” “compassionate,” “gullible,” “loves children,” and “yielding.”

You’ll surely notice that all the male qualities focus on elements of leadership, while much of the terminology referring to feminine traits includes language that likens women to mothers, caretakers, or children.

Still, our source defends EY and stands by her position — just as Grier does. 

“Overall, I would say EY is a great place to work. In fact, I left the firm and returned, which is not uncommon with many who work with EY and leave,” says our source. “Unlike other major companies operating in the financial services space, EY offers a more flexible work environment, particularly as you progress through the ranks. Flexibility includes the ability to work remotely, the ability to work a reduced or compressed workweek — this requires a formal arrangement —  and adjust working hour schedules as client demands allow. Of course, there are many times when hours can be long, but this is true with almost any company in the industry, and EY does its best to make it manageable.”

In the time since the article, EY has released several statements in an effort to distance itself from PPP and do damage control.

“There is no question that elements of the program included offensive content that is inconsistent with our core beliefs,” EY said in its first statement.

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Days later, EY came back again with another statement:

“The Power-Presence-Purpose program has been canceled. This voluntary program, which was delivered to a small group of approximately 150 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.”

According to this statement, PPP is no longer offered at EY. Our source at EY says she has never taken that particular training session but has never felt like EY perpetuates a misogynistic culture.

“I feel that EY overall is very supportive towards women: in my group, we have several women at the partner level, many of whom have families and are able to balance work and life demands. I have never felt as though I have been treated differently for being female.”

Other women at EY, including Huffington Post’s source and Karen Ward, a former partner at EY, say they had different experiences. Ward has claimed she was sexually harassed by her boss, then retaliated against, while HP’s anonymous source said she experienced discrimination.

According to EY’s data from the fiscal year 2018, women make up 12 percent of EY’s lead client service partners. Additionally, 20.4 percent of EY’s partners and principals are females.

“While the company is not perfect — I don’t think any company is —  EY is overall a great place to work, particularly for those beginning their careers and looking for a place to grow,” says our source. “Unlike my experiences with other financial services companies, I have had great mentors here {both female and male!} that have helped guide my career. This news is incredibly disheartening, though overall seems to have been extrapolated to a greater number of women than actually impacted. Nevertheless, I am sure this is not what my company stands for and truly hope nothing like this happens again.”

 

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Steph Osmanski is a freelance writer who specializes in sustainability and health and wellness content. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook Southampton.