The New Jersey Division of Civil Rights and Ernst & Young LLP have entered into a Memorandum of Agreement resolving the DCR’s investigation into whether the company violated state discrimination laws by providing its female employees with training based on gender stereotypes.
According to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, DCR’s investigation focused on a training program that was developed by an outside vendor and used by Ernst & Young between February 2015 and September 2019.
The program was national, and portions of it were delivered in New Jersey. Ernst & Young employs approximately 3,500 workers at its Hoboken, Secaucus, and Iselin locations and has approximately 55,000 partners, principals and employees in the U.S.
The training at issue, called the “Power-Presence-Purpose Training Program” (PPP), came to DCR’s attention in 2019 after news reports described some of its content as outdated and offensive. The information came from Ernst & Young employees who had attended the sessions.
DCR found that some of the materials were based on gender stereotypes and referenced gender-based “rules” that female employees were encouraged to follow.
It included purported “science” establishing “differences” between male and female brains, taken almost exclusively from a single, widely criticized source, and included gender-based stereotypes about the skills of women and men in the workplace and expectations of their behavior.
The program assumed that all individuals identify as either female or male; that a person’s gender identity and expression are based on their assigned sex at birth; and that a people’s gender expression, including the way they act and dress, is in accordance with society’s expectation of that gender identity.
DCR’s investigation concluded that the program violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination’s (LAD) prohibition on employment discrimination based on sex, gender identity, and gender expression.
Ernst & Young has agreed to pay the state $100,000; create a new $500,000 scholarship program to increase opportunities for employment in the accounting and finance industry for women and other populations underrepresented in the industry; and implement policy, training, and other reforms to ensure the company’s corporate culture and work environment comply with the LAD and do not encourage differential treatment of employees based on sex, gender identity, or gender expression.
Industry on notice
“Training programs that perpetuate gender stereotypes and present faulty science as fact can harm employees, exacerbate gender inequities, and stigmatize employees who do not conform to gender stereotypes,” said Aaron Scherzer, Chief of Strategic Initiatives and Enforcement at the Division on Civil Rights. “The robust and forward-thinking provisions in this agreement with Ernst & Young reflect DCR’s commitment to rooting out discrimination in workplaces across New Jersey.”
According to the OAG, Ernst & Young has taken steps to ensure that its professional development trainings comply with the LAD and has committed to changes that have implications for not just New Jersey residents, but the accounting and finance industries more broadly.
Within a year, and continuing annually for three years after that, the company will require employees who live or work in New Jersey to take a course that focuses on gender equity, implicit bias, anti-discrimination, and cultural competency.
The company has agreed to offer the course – tentatively named Ethics Respect at Work – to new hires beginning in fiscal year 2022.
Within a year, and continuing annually for the next three years after that, Ernst & Young will provide DCR with data on the gender makeup of its employees and executives in the U.S. and New Jersey. To the extent available, the data will include the number of employees and executives who self-identify as men, women, transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and intersex.
When Ernst & Young provides the data, it will provide DCR with a summary of its past and future initiatives – including the new scholarship program required by the agreement – aimed at increasing the number of people it employs from groups underrepresented in the accounting and finance industry.
Ernst & Young has agreed to continue for three years its training evaluation and control program.
Through this program, Ernst & Young performs a review of its portfolio of learning programs to identify any materials that are inconsistent with its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Ernst & Young has agreed to provide its personnel a written and video statement reiterating its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“We are committed to ensuring that all New Jersey residents have the opportunity to thrive in diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “Our Division on Civil Rights stands ready to enforce the Law Against Discrimination when employment practices reinforce gender and other stereotypes instead of promoting workplace equality.”
To file a discrimination complaint with DCR visit https://bias.njcivilrights.gov/ or call 1-833-NJDCR4U (833-653-2748).