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EY Scraps ‘Offensive’ Leadership Training Program (1)

Oct. 21, 2019, 10:03 PMUpdated: Oct. 21, 2019, 10:47 PM

Ernst & Young LLP canceled a leadership training program that the Big Four accounting firm said included offensive content that was out of step with its values.

The firm said Oct. 21 that it had scuttled the program called “Power–Presence–Purpose” and would review its processes for selecting and vetting the content of its training programs.

The announcement came the same day the Huffington Post reported that a 2018 training session schooled women on how to get along with their male colleagues in order to climb the corporate ladder.

The training included tips on how to dress and recommendations that women shouldn’t directly confront male colleagues during meetings and shouldn’t be too aggressive or outspoken, according to an attendee who spoke with the Huffington Post.

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

The firm called the training voluntary and said that just a “small group of EY professionals” took part. However, the program didn’t “reflect EY’s values or culture and should not have been offered to any of our women,” the firm said.

“The women of EY thrive because of the strength of their character, the authenticity they display and their capabilities,” the firm said. “We are incredibly proud of our women and our longstanding commitment to diversity, inclusion and creating a culture of belonging for all.”

Accounting firms have made some progress retaining and advancing women, three of whom have broken through the glass ceiling to lead a Big Four firm, including EY. And they are often named among the best places to work for women.

Still, the gains have been uneven. Women run the audits of just a fraction of S&P 500 companies and women accountants earn 78% of what their male colleagues earn. Three-fourths of partners across CPA firms are men.

And as the #MeToo movement exposed widespread workplace sexual harassment from Hollywood to Wall Street, EY has not been immune. Two former EY partners filed sexual harassment complaints against the U.S. firm in 2018.

Karen Ward said she suffered discrimination and retaliation in response to her bias complaints. Jessica Casucci said the firm failed to act after she reported a colleague who groped and propositioned her during a work event.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amanda Iacone in Washington at aiacone@bloombergtax.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeff Harrington at jharrington@bloombergtax.com