Kelly Grier, the U.S. chair and managing partner of Ernst & Young, acknowledged that a leadership training offered by the giant accounting firm contained offensive and inappropriate content in an email and video sent out to the company’s alumni and obtained by HuffPost.
Grier was responding to a HuffPost report on the contents of a seminar that has drawn widespread condemnation since news of its existence was first published Monday.
At the day-and-a-half program, held in June 2018, women were given advice on how to dress ― no short skirts because “sexuality scrambles the mind” ― and how to act around men. They were also told their brains are smaller than men’s and not to talk to a man face to face because that was intimidating.
“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 in the email.
The first woman to lead the company in the U.S., Grier also sent alumni a link to a video discussing the “Power-Presence-Purpose” program. Initially about five minutes long, the video was shortened later in the day, in part to remove remarks that were highly critical of the media.
Grier called media characterizations of the company’s culture “unfair and misleading.” She also appeared to take a swipe at HuffPost and the other news reports released this week. “The objective of the media is to create news and to attract clicks, and there is no doubt that this story was done with that objective exclusively in mind,” Grier said. Those remarks were edited out of a subsequent version of the video.
“We celebrate differences and authenticity and the courage of conviction, and we encourage bold leadership and a culture of belonging,” she said.
Grier said only a few women at EY had ever participated in the program — fewer than 1%, she writes ― and that it had not gone through an appropriate review at the firm. “This was an unfortunate breakdown in our processes,” she said.
In the video, Grier ― who is No. 38 on Fortune’s list of the most powerful women ― said she was “deeply troubled” by some of the “offensive” content in the program.
She said if she’d taken the advice offered to women in the presentation, she likely wouldn’t have made it to the top.
“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 said in the video.
For its story on Monday, HuffPost shared the 55-page PPP presentation with three experts in women and leadership ― two academics and one consultant ― who have all worked on these kinds of trainings. All agreed the program was threaded throughout with outdated and debunked stereotypes about women.
At least two EY alumni HuffPost spoke with on Wednesday said they were not won over by Grier’s note.
“Eh, if you could see me roll [my] eyes,” said a former female executive director with the firm in an email to HuffPost, who did not want to include her name due to fear of career reprisals for openly criticizing her former employer.
“It’s about what I would expect them to say,” the former executive director said. “It’s a focused response to what they’ve tried to minimize as a specific error with a specific program, while being seriously tone deaf on the larger cultural issue.”
She emphasized that overall, EY leaders probably do believe they are doing all they can for women, but when you look at the numbers, there is clearly a problem.
Just 25% of EY’s partners and principals in the U.S. are women, according to data EY shared with HuffPost. The company emphasized to HuffPost on Wednesday that women comprise nearly 40% of Grier’s executive team.
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