Ex-EY Partner Karen Ward ‘Not Surprised’ By ‘Appalling’ Training Seminar for Women

Karen Ward, the former EY partner who alleges she was a victim of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation during her tenure with the firm, said she wasn’t shocked to learn about the 1950 2018 training seminar that EY hosted for women leaders, in which attendees were told, among other things, not to flaunt their goods in front of men, to always have good haircuts and manicured nails, and that their brains were like pancakes.

Karen Ward

In an open letter to EY U.S. Chair Kelly Grier, Ward said she was very much familiar with the sexist values portrayed in the training seminar, which was called “Power-Presence-Purpose,” even though she wasn’t one of the 30 or so women who attended it. Ward said the content of the seminar was “entirely consistent with my own experience as a female executive at EY.”

As the only female Partner out of 19 partners in my group in Transaction Real Estate, I was unfortunately not surprised to learn of the appalling and outdated PPP training. It is incredibly telling that just two months before I was fired, female employees were trained to look “healthy and fit,” and to wear “well-cut attire that complements [their] body type” if they wanted to succeed at the firm and in the business sector. As a woman who has been named to the Fortune Most Powerful Women in Business list for two consecutive years, it should be more than “deeply troubling” to you that women at EY were told that typical feminine traits included “Childlike,” “Flatterable,” “Gullible,” “Loves Children,” “Soft-Spoken,” “Shy” and “Yielding,” whereas masculine characteristics included “Acts as a Leader,” “Aggressive,” “Ambitious,” “Assertive,” “Analytical,” “Competitive,” “Defends One’s Beliefs,” “Has Leadership Abilities” and “Willing to Take a Stand.” Even worse, women were told that their brains were smaller than men’s brains, and were instructed not to “directly confront men in meetings” and not to be “too aggressive or outspoken.”

After Huffington Post broke the story early last week about EY’s pancake brain training, Grier tried to do some damage control, saying in a video to EY alums that the content in the seminar “should never have been delivered as part of any EY learning program” and had she followed those things discussed in the training program, “I can assure you I would not be sitting here today as your U.S. chair.”

Grier is the third top EY U.S. executive who Ward has sent a letter to regarding her sexual harassment and discrimination case against the firm and asking EY to stop its practice of forced arbitration.

As a condition of her employment, Ward signed an arbitration provision in her partnership agreement that took away her right to sue EY in court. After she filed her harassment and discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in September 2018, Ward wrote an open letter to then-EY CEO and Chairman Mark Weinberger asking him to end forced arbitration for victims of sexual misconduct and discrimination at EY, as well as to release her from the arbitration agreement. The firm denied her request, forcing her to file her claims in arbitration.

She also wrote a similar open letter to current EY CEO and Chairman Carmine Di Sibio on Aug. 5, shortly after a group of more than 60 New York state legislators sent a letter to Di Sibio denouncing the firm’s practice of forced arbitration agreements, especially in cases of sexual harassment and discrimination.

So instead of having to pay a $450 filing fee to have her case against EY heard by a judge or jury in the Southern District of New York and possibly win a substantial amount of money in court, Ward has had to pay nearly $200,000 in costs so far during the secret arbitration process. That’s because EY refused to pay all the arbitration costs, according to a declaratory judgment complaint filed by Ward’s attorneys. In March, a tribunal of three arbitrators ruled that Ward and EY would have to split the costs.

EY has maintained that Ward’s sexual harassment and discrimination claims are “unfounded and baseless,” and said in a statement that “the arbitrators, not EY, determined by their ruling several months ago that the cost of the arbitration would be shared by the parties, subject to final resolution of the proceedings.”

In her letter to Grier, Ward wrote that forcing her to arbitrate her sexual harassment claims against EY and pay thousands of dollars to do so “is simply indicative of the fact that EY has not changed its culture since the 2018 PPP presentation.”

[F]orced arbitration is simply a means of keeping women quiet and submissive, in the same way that women at EY were advised to be “soft-spoken” in the PPP training. As Microsoft explained when it eliminated forced arbitration for sexual harassment victims: “The silencing of people’s voices has clearly had an impact in perpetuating sexual harassment.” That is what EY has done and continues to do.

Ward asked Grier if they could meet to discuss her experiences at EY, her case against the firm, and the issue of forced arbitration.

You can read Ward’s entire letter to Grier here.

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