According to these real women, the Ernst & Young sexist training fiasco is a common reality

This week, Ernst & Young was under fire when news broke about a highly sexist training session held last summer. According to reports, the ‘Power-Presence-Purpose’ event was held in Hoboken, drawing in 30 employees, all female. This day-and-a-half conference hosted by an outside company hired by this Big Four company was meant to help females interact more successfully in the male-dominated field. Instead of living up to its name, women were encouraged to dress and act in a certain way, not to demonstrate their features, and that their minds were like ‘pancakes’, unable to hold onto information. Perhaps what’s most infuriating at all is the fact this seminar was led by women. 

In a climate where professionals are working tirelessly for equality and justice between the sexes, this 55-page document leaked to The Huffington Post set off a worldwide response. After all, considering more and more women are fighting their way to leadership positions and seats on boards, and the fastest-growing sector of entrepreneurism is led by females, it’s hard to imagine this predated mentality. Or is it? These anonymous women from various industries share the very worst advice and experiences they’ve had within the office: 

“A VP of sales taped my mouth shut.”

“I once had the VP of Sales tape my mouth shut in a meeting with the other Regional Sales Managers, all of whom were men. I was their top-performing RSM. At the same company, at a meeting with upper management and our distributors, the president of the company asked me who I liked to sleep with at a dinner meeting for all to hear. I was the only female at the table.”

 

“I was harassed by my own teenage student.”

“At the beginning of this school year, I was sexually harassed by a student of about 14, who made lewd comments to me in front of my entire class. When I brought it to my principal, she told me that I must have misunderstood what he meant. She was sure I was wrong and questioned why I took so long to bring it to her attention. It happened on Friday at the end of the day, I was in tears and I had a flight to catch for Labor Day weekend,   told her first thing Tuesday morning. And honestly needed time to process. Because of the way it was handled I hear kids make jokes about it, and I sometimes feel completely out of control in my own classroom, which is hard to come back from.”

 

“My reward for working hard was a ‘congrats.’”

When my promotion came through approximately four years ago — which took a year and a half of serious campaigning on my part — I was told that the delay in communicating my promotional raise was due to my male line manager. He had to go back to my male department manager and tell him that ‘you can’t pay the girls less than the boys.’ Yep, my promotional raise originally looked like a ‘you had a fantastic year’ raise, not a ‘congratulations, you had a fantastic year and we are promoting you’ raise. I asked my line manager where I ended up, and I was smack in the middle of the two men at my level. If my line manager hadn’t said anything, I would have received a comparatively low salary increase for a major promotion and been underpaid compared to my male counterparts.”

 

“I was told to wear a skirt.” 

“Toward the beginning of my career, after a briefing session with a prospective client, my female boss asked me to wear a shorter skirt to the pitch because ‘he was practically drooling on you and we really need the sale.’ I wore pants, closed the sale anyway.”

 

“I was informed not to wear my engagement ring.”

“I had a client request that I not wear my engagement ring to meetings at their organization. She felt the ring would stir emotions for those that are single and impact how I was received. I want to stress this was a request…not a suggestion.”

 

“I was told I’m too emotional.”

“The worst ever career advice was from a woman who grew up in the big five — before they were the big 4 — who told me ‘Men are not emotional and if you stop being so emotional, they’ll actually take you seriously. You’re doing this to yourself.’ I was also told not to ask for feedback because makes me appear desperate. They said if someone has feedback for you, they’ll give it to me. ‘You never see a man asking for feedback.’” 

 

“I was told I’m too harsh.”

“While on an entirely female staff that my constructive feedback for those I supervise was ‘too harsh’ and that I should sandwich critiques between positive statements. This is even though the actual people I was giving the feedback to often thanked me for being the only one on the team who offered direct and helpful feedback. Men are never asked to provide feedback passively and wouldn’t be criticized for sharing kind but direct feedback to help the people below them grow. Unfortunately, the issue of women in the workplace needing to be ‘agreeable’ is something women also have a hand in perpetuating.”

 

“I was given a book on how to dress as a woman in the workplace.”

“I was told a few things about my appearance: cut your hair short since it makes people look more mature. I was told to wear heels because apparently being 5’2” means I’m not as smart. I was also given the book ‘The Woman’s dress for Success Book’ by John T. Molly. It’s by a male and was published in 1977!  There’s even a section in it for ‘black lawyers’, it’s so outdated.”

 

“I was told I couldn’t make more money than a man.”

“I worked at an agency that said I was too heavy to be an executive and that jeans weren’t professional enough for executives. At this same place, my supervisor who was the president responded to a raise pitch with, ‘I agree this is the right salary but it would mean you make more money than me.’ They would also pregnant women on reduced use because they had ‘pregnancy brain.’ When I left to restart my own business because I’d had enough, ‘Isn’t it great you now have a husband so you can do a passion project without worrying about money?’”

 

“I was told to lose weight.”

“Within the last two years I’ve been told, ‘Oh you’re so smart and capable. If you just lose 30 pounds, you’ll be unstoppable.’ How much worse is that statement knowing that it was suggested to me by a woman? Worse still, the same woman suggested that I dress more ‘with the fashion’ to ‘prove that you’ve not only got the capability but also the goods.’” 

 

“I was told I was too independent.” 

“I’d negotiated remote days and insurance. Wouldn’t you know that the day after putting in for insurance, they let me go and told me I was ‘too independent’ because I refused to give up my remote days and asked for more money to do so, since he very clearly stated he’d agreed to those as a salary negotiation to lower my salary. By the way, the company is now almost fully remote. I wasn’t too independent, I had foresight.”

 

“I was told to smile.”

“I had someone tell me just last month I should only use a professional headshot where I was smiling and that showed my teeth.”

“I was asked to watch a man’s bag for him.”

“I was at a taping for a client. It was a major national taping and I was on-site helping this client who had no clue how media tapings went or what to expect. I was there to help move things along with a very long-winded client, who didn’t know how to navigate tapings of this nature. There were even more complexities that made this a difficult interview but if I list them out it would easily divulge who this person is and what the segment was on.

When I asked this very important journalist for a major national news show how I could help him out and if he needed anything from my end, he told me I could ‘sit there and hold and watch his bag’ for him. He was so completely dismissive and rude that I actually couldn’t believe it. There wasn’t a reason to sit and watch his bag. No one was around and he was being extremely disrespectful. On top of it, he did this in front of my client. Thankfully, my client was appalled and we have a good relationship so there was no jeopardy in me losing the client or needing to save face even though it was humiliating. He proceeded to treat me as a second-class citizen, wouldn’t acknowledge me after dismissing me, and acted as though I was beneath him the entire taping.

This reporter is continually on the news with expanded segments now morning and evening news and I literally get sick every time I have to see him on TV or even hear him on the news from another room. I don’t even want to imagine how he has treated other people.”

 

“I was catcalled at work.”

“I once worked at a Hispanic ad agency and was the only young, white and blonde female. The men in the office gave me the nickname Guera — direct translation: blonde or light-skinned. And for three years most of them only knew me by that rather than my actual name. They would also cat-call me in the hallways.”

“I worked at a tanning salon in 2007 the husband and wife that owned the now-closed salon tried very hard to make/persuade me wear cleavage-bearing shirts and shorts that you could see half my bottom even offered me a pay raise. Being young and dumb, I took it. Then later that summer I found out I was pregnant my first child. That must have thrown a wrench in their plans, so the turned my role into cleaning beds, laundry and any and everything that needed to be done, as long as customers didn’t see me. Since I was cleaning beds and bending over all day I went into preterm labor at five months. They seemed to understand when I had to go out on early maternity leave and told me to call after the baby was born. I tried to start working with them again after and they never returned my calls.”