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EY Tower

EY shoots itself in the foot yet again


Our roving partner shines a spotlight on an EY leadership course that gives an unbelievably patronising message to women in the profession.

18th Nov 2019
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Readers may well be aware of EY’s recent woes.

First of all, the firm shot itself in the foot by becoming the centre of an increasingly embarrassing series of audit failures, highlighted by both the US’s Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), our own Financial Reporting Council (FRC) earlier this year, and more recently surrounding its work in advance of the Thomas Cook collapse.

It then reloaded and shot itself in the other foot, in the form of Panorama's impressively comprehensive investigation into a global money-laundering scam, which alleged that the Big Four practice have been involved in a cynical cover-up.

Surely the standard human being would have no more feet left to fire shots into?

I don’t know what it is about EY, but their marketing and PR department must despair over the firm’s effortless ability to generate stories that end up plastered all over the news for the wrong reasons.

The latest comes from Huffington Post and, to be fair to grandees in the firm’s UK practice, appears to relate entirely to activities on the far side of the Atlantic. However, a culture is a culture and I have little doubt that the powers that be at EY would claim that theirs is global.

The article is long and contains much that should worry the firm. On a leadership program run last year for women, presumably aspiring partners or members of senior management, the following ideas were propagated.

Women’s brains absorb information like pancakes soak up syrup so it’s hard for them to focus, the attendees were told. Men’s brains are more like waffles. They’re better able to focus because the information collects in each little waffle square.

“Be “polished,” have a “good haircut, manicured nails, well-cut attire that complements your body type,”

“Don’t flaunt your body ― sexuality scrambles the mind (for men and women).”

“A long list of “Invisible Rules” for men and women ... paints a bleak portrait of contrasting communication styles. It says that women often “speak briefly” and “often ramble and miss the point” in meetings. By comparison, a man will “speak at length ― because he really believes in his idea.” Women don’t interrupt effectively like men. Women “wait their turn (that never comes) and raise their hands.”

  • Don’t directly confront men in meetings, because men perceive this as threatening. (Women do not.) Meet before (or after) the meeting instead.
  • If you’re having a conversation with a man, cross your legs and sit at an angle to him. Don’t talk to a man face-to-face. Men see that as threatening.
  • Don’t be too aggressive or outspoken.

Signs of problems to come should have been obvious.

“Before the workshop, women were also given a “Masculine/Feminine Score Sheet,” which had them rate their adherence to stereotypical masculine and feminine characteristics both on the job and outside the office.

The so-called masculine traits included “Acts as a Leader,” “Aggressive,” “Ambitious,” “Analytical,” “Has Leadership Abilities,” “Strong Personality” and “Willing to Take a Stand.”

The so-called feminine traits included “Affectionate,” “Cheerful,” “Childlike,” “Compassionate,” “Gullible,” “Loves Children” and “Yielding.” None of the feminine traits involved leadership ― ostensibly a focus of the training.”

Can you imagine the reaction if prospective male partners were given equivalent advice? In fact, it’s not so much imagining the reaction as conceiving that any firm would try to treat male partners in waiting in such a patronising manner.

Even in the United Kingdom, we have finally got the message about gender equality, the need to narrow pay gaps and the general requirement to avoid any kind of statement that might be picked up by the media and highlighted as an example of sexism.

In the United States, where the #MeToo movement started out and has become a runaway train, you would have thought that the position was much clearer.

As such, it is quite remarkable that EY should find itself on the wrong end of a long and detailed indictment of policies that sound as if they were initiated in the 1950s.

None of this is good for the profession. I wish all at EY well and am sincerely hoping that they can put this annus horribilis behind them and start afresh in 2020.

Replies (3)

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By darkmatter
20th Nov 2019 21:26

The writer of this article has "issues"

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By thomas34
21st Nov 2019 08:32

I'm not sure if it's the marketing and P.R. departments that are in any way to blame. We have historical wrongdoings and the recent money laundering allegations which if proved could be terminal for the firm. I for one certainly don't wish "all at EY well". If the latest allegations (from a whistle blower) are proven they should be shut down in the manner of Arthur Andersen after the Enron scandal.

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By flightdeck
22nd Nov 2019 17:23

Men and women do tend to have different work styles which we must voice if we are to address the power balances at work. However the message they are giving seems to be that it is women who need to better understand men and women who need to moderate their presentation and behavior to be more compatible with men. I do not see the counterpart guidance for men to help them deal more effectively with women. This isn't a one way street! The whole tone is patronising and juvenile and I am really surprised to see this low quality effort from a company that employs 270,000 people.

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