Advice to Women: Be the Waffle, Not the Pancake


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(This post originally appeared in my Careerist column in the Jacksonville Business Journal)

I just checked my calendar, and yes, it is still the 21st century. But you’d never know that by reading through the “Power-Presence-Purpose” training delivered to female employees at EY (formerly Ernst & Young.) The last time the 55-page training was delivered was in 2018, and the company strongly denies that it was as condescending and Mad Men-esque as the published excerpts make it sound.

You be the judge. Here are some highlights.

EY hired an outside (female) consultant to develop the training, which was designed to show “promising women at EY how to grow their networks, negotiate and build stronger, high-performing teams.” The first order of business was a “Masculine/Feminine Score Sheet” to help women rate themselves on how they presented inside and outside the office. Masculine traits included “Acts as a Leader,” “Ambitious,” “Independent,” “Strong Personality” and “Willing to Take a Stand.” Feminine traits included “Affectionate,” “Cheerful,” “Childlike,” “Compassionate,” “Gullible,” “Loves Children,” “Soft-spoken,” and “Tender.”

It’s possible that the consultant intended these terms as stereotypes to battle. But a training attendee (who asked to remain anonymous in the Huffpost article I read) says she took the list at face value. The trainer indicated that women would be penalized, by both men and women if they strayed into male behaviors. The image of the score sheet doesn’t look ironic. If you need to take a short break from reading now, I understand. Come back after you walk it off (or cry it out, if you’re a woman.)

Another helpful rule: don’t flaunt your bodies. “Sexuality scrambles the mind (for men and women.)” The anonymous EY attendee also shared some of her notes from the training about how not to appear too threatening to men. “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.”

The document also advises women not to speak too briefly in meetings (a man will “speak at length because he really believes in his idea.”) They’re also warned about “rambling and missing the point,” and are helpfully prompted to “practice writing their thoughts down.”

To be fair, according to the training, it’s our brain differences that make it so hard for us women to stay on track. “Women’s brains absorb information like pancakes soak up syrup so it’s hard for them to focus. Men’s brains are more like waffles. They’re better able to focus because the information collects in each little waffle square.”

Like many companies in the financial sector, EY does not have many women represented in its highest ranks. Overall, just 20.4% of EY’s partners and principals are women, according to the company’s 2018 reporting. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Though women and men enter the workforce in roughly equal numbers, men outnumber women nearly 2 to 1 when they reach that first step up—the manager jobs that are the bridge to more senior leadership roles.”

More waffle, less pancake, ladies. That should help balance the scales.

 

 

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