The training session struck many attendees and observers as out of step with the current social landscape.

An American workplace, circa1957.

It’s not often that a training session held a year and half ago would generate so much interest after the fact, but that seems to be the case regarding one held for approximately 30 female executives at Ernst & Young last June.

In the session in question, attendees were told be “polished,” have a “good haircut, manicured nails, well-cut attire that complements your body type,” it states on Page 36 of the 55-page handout. But that’s followed by a warning: “Don’t flaunt your body―sexuality scrambles the mind (for men and women).”

According to this Huffington Post piece, the training session was run by an “external vendor” named Marsha Clark and was called Power-Presence-Purpose or PPP, and it took place during the height of the Me Too movement when sexual misconduct accusations dominated the news.

HuffPost reports it inquired about the training in early October of this year, and said EY told the outlet that the course had been under review for months, that the June 2018 event was the last time that version of the training was held at the company and that the course “is no longer offered in its current form.” The company did not provide any more detail on the changes.

EY also said it disagrees with the way the content of the seminar is characterized in the HuffPost story. “Any isolated aspects are taken wholly out of context,” EY said in a statement. The company said it reviewed the evaluations of women who participated in the program, and found they rated it highly. EY’s communications team also shared quotes from two current employees, who praised the training.

“Professionally, PPP was the most impactful leadership program that I have had the opportunity to participate in and I have always been incredibly proud and humbled to have been a part of it,” EY senior executive Stacey Moore, who participated in the training four years ago, said in a statement provided by company. “I am forever grateful to the firm for the opportunity and the investment in our women.”

Indeed, some EY partners include references to the PPP program on their LinkedIn pages. In May, female EY employees gathered for a PPP reunion and “graduation.” A LinkedIn post from one EY employee about that gathering says that more than 150 women have taken the course.

“We are proud of our long-standing commitment to women and deeply committed to creating and fostering an environment of inclusivity and belonging at EY, anything that suggests the contrary is 100% false,” the firm said in its statement to HuffPost.

But that did little to quell the uproar.

On Oct. 24, Karen Ward, a former partner at Ernst & Young who is currently suing the firm for sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, sent an open letter to Kelly Grier, Ernst & Young’s U.S. chair and managing partner.

In the letter, Ward, who stated she was “the only female partner out of 19 partners in my group in Transaction Real Estate,” says was “unfortunately not surprised to learn of the appalling and outdated PPP training.”

Ward pushed back against Grier’s video response to the PPP imbroglio, in which Grier described the offensive and objectionable content–Ward’s words–that was delivered to those female executives in 2018 as “wholly in conflict with [your] own experience as a woman in the firm.”

“While I cannot speak to your experience as a female leader at EY,” Ward wrote, “I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight: the sexist values portrayed in the PPP presentation are entirely consistent with my own experience as a female executive at EY.”

Even those outside the company are still shaking their heads at the content of the presentation.

“I can only hope the comments in the HuffPo article were somehow taken out of context as dated examples of what women have suffered in the workplace,” says Jeanne Achille, CEO of Devon PR. “It’s disingenuous for any company to espouse of culture of inclusiveness while offering such a curriculum; even worse, it’s downright insulting to women.”

Or, as one Twitter user simply wondered: “What year is it?”

Web Editor Michael J. O’Brien has been with HRE for more than a decade and holds a degree in economics from Boston College. He can be reached at [email protected]

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