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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 11, 2010 @ 10:10 am

    Pictures of trainees shame newspapers more than PwC

    Laura Slattery

    The text goes something like this: “We’re OUTRAGED by this SEXIST behaviour.” The subtext? “Oh yeah and here, why not take a gander at the lovely ladies. Our favourite in the newsroom is the blonde. We’re so sorry they’re just company headshots, but people might notice if we reprint images from Ryanair’s annual charity bikini calendar every day.”

    “Rated like prize cattle,” announces today’s Irish Daily Mail headline above the staff photographs of the female PricewaterhouseCoopers trainees whose attractiveness was rated – complete with a slang reference to female anatomy – by a group of male employees at PwC’s Dublin office. The bovine imagery is the Daily Mail‘s own.

    Presumably, the women college graduates were not so long ago delighted to have secured a place at one of the Big Four accountancy firms and excited to be gaining three years’ worth of professional experience. Of course, even without this shivering display of workplace chauvinism, as women they would have already been up against the statistics. The accountancy profession is no bastion of equality: while women now represent 50 per cent of the student intake, according to a study by Prof Patricia Barker, just 16 per cent of people who make it to partner level in the Big Four boardrooms of the English-speaking world are women.

    However, the male PwC employee who originally circulated the offensive email is not, it is understood, a senior partner in the company or anything like it.  What makes him and the other men involved so pathetic was their belief that compiling a “shortlist for the top 10” in an email and confidently forwarding it around was anything other than spectacularly dumb. There will be an inquiry into what the US gossip site Gawker labelled the “frat boy behaviour”, and the PwC partner in charge of HR, Carmel O’Connor, says the company is “taking the matter extremely seriously”.

    The same attitude has not been replicated by the media (led yesterday by the Evening Herald) that reprinted the women’s photographs, thereby inviting readers to play the very same “hot or not” game that they claim brings PwC into disrepute.

    Last night’s Tonight with Vincent Browne saw Browne question Irish Independent columnist David McWilliams about whether he was “embarrassed to be associated with a newspaper that does this”. McWilliams at first noted that the pictures were “all over the Internet already” before conceding that if he was editor, he wouldn’t have printed them, as he agreed with Browne’s view that publishing the photographs was “compounding” the insult the young women had received. That they had not asked for the spotlight is not a difficult concept to grasp.  

    Thanks to PwC’s colossal size, the story has now gone international. Gawker, which has more readers than all Irish newspapers and online media put together, is the kind of website that publishes stories that make even bitter political opponents of the US Tea Party’s Christine O’Donnell feel sorry for her. Repeated publication of the email would be negative for the company, Gawker observed: “Once it hits the British tabloids, it’ll certainly be a PR nightmare for PwC.”

    I don’t imagine the women involved are having much fun at the moment either. Again, just think what it must have felt like, starting out in a new job, buoyed by their fresh academic achievement, proud to pose for their company ID mugshots and eager to prove how capable they are. It must have been beyond their imagination to think that their faces would be collated en masse to be judged, compared and criticised not only by their male colleagues, but millions.

    • Eoin says:

      If this is the IT’s attempts to mention the PwC emails without mentioning the PwC emails then you’ve done a fine job. If you want to write about how accountancy is a male bastion or how Browne conducts his interviews then by all means do so. Criticizing newspapers for publishing the news, however, is like asking a dog not to bark.

    • mary says:

      I guess the guys involved miss this memo: http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/women-at-pwc.
      I note also PwC has a ‘Gender Agenda’ blog http://pwc.blogs.com/gender_agenda/ Will be interesting to see how this story is treated there.

    • I think the response to the question asked of Dearbhail Mcdonald was more noteworthy than that of McWilliams, she had no problem with the frontpage and basically went with a defence of sure they’re all lovely girls to be having their pictures on the front page of a national newspaper. I can’t help feeling the sweaty hand of the SIndo in this most un Indoish of frontpages.

      Let’s be honest here, it’s not like male or female employees don’t ever talk about the attractiveness of colleagues but most of them have the cop on not to commit their thoughts to the record or use corporate resources to do it. That the Independent group via the Herald and then the Independent thought this need to be printed on the front page is astounding, what next?

    • Finn says:

      I agree entirely with the above sentiments. I was very any this morning when I saw the front page of the Indepenednt. The newspaper’s decision to print their pictures is as disguisting and idiotic as the intial decision by the PWC employee to send the email.

      I feel bad for the girls in question.

    • Amanda Brown says:

      Great post. I think this is just one in a long line of examples that equality between men and women in the workplace is a long way off and has visibly slipped backwards in the last few years of recession.

    • Justin says:

      @ Eoin. You’re right that it’s a good story and a newspaper should cover something like this. But there’s a distinction between covering the PwC emails and putting the photographs of the women targeted in it across the front page of the biggest selling national newspaper in the country. You can cover the story without their photos.

    • The Irish Times reported the story on the emails, without any pictures, here:

    • Eoin says:

      Hi Justin, I said nothing about the use of photos. This blogpost sounds to me like an attempt to be holier than the Indo. I think what the Indo did is pretty shameful but generally in keeping with their content. The editor knows what sells, why wouldn’t he use the photos? If we want to call double standards then let’s do that. But if we want to make a larger point about the Indo’s general calls on content then let’s have that discussion.

    • Sheila says:

      Was very surprised to se the pictures on the Herald yesterday. But more surprised about the Indo. Idiots!

    • Fergal says:

      I entirely agree with the comments made. I had the same thought myself this morning when i saw the The Daily Mail. It typifies the attitude of some newspapers and their definition of how the news should be reported. Whether or not this is actually news or not is one issue but the headshots splattered all over some of the dailies and lascivious is to be expected from the the gutter, self-appointed “populist” press. Anyway, well said Laura. That’s it in a nutshell!

      @Eoin, can you not see any irony in how this “news” is presented and the actual reporting of it?

    • Irish Charlie says:

      What I don’t understand is that it’s a “Top 10″ list yet there are 13 pictures. Is this called creative accounting? Can someone else please explain how this “Top 10″ works.

    • Ship jumper says:

      The fact that this story made it to the front page of your website is pathetic.

    • I think my previous attempt at commenting may have gotten lost (these IT blogs commenting forms are buggy!) or maybe it was too close to alleging wrongdoing and got canned (fair enough if so).

      The point was that I believe there would be a data protection issue in the misuse of these photos as it’s personnel information belolnging to PWC which I imagine is regulated by Data Protection legislation. The newspapers have used precisely the same information again, and while there’s a public interest rationale for running the story and perhaps even in naming those involved, the publication of the photo’s could not be defended by the same rationale at all. Especially printing them on the front page of the biggest selling daily newspaper. To invent an attitude on the part of the women pictured and ascribe it to them is not a defense.

      It would look to me like an issue for the Data Protection Commissioner and not just the Press Ombudsman.

    • John says:

      Does PWC, assuming they took the photographs, not have a case of copyright infringement against the Indo and Herald?

    • Fergus says:

      @Amanda Brown. This is not an equality in the workplace issue and baseless statements like “visibly slipped backwards in the last few years” are not helpful. This situation is really simple. Some adolescent fool with not enough work to do sends out a demeaning email. Some other fools leak it out of PwC. Some more fools in the media make a big deal out of it. Chain of fools.

      If I was the original perpetrator’s manager, I would, in realizing I had an immature fool in my employ, be looking at ways to get rid of him. Not that the email is in itself a sacking offence, I just wouldn’t want an immature fool working for me. This is how the workplace works. Nothing to do with equality. If a female employee penned a similar email then I’d think her an immature fool too and would assume she wasn’t up to the job either.

    • Damian says:

      I agree totally with this article Laura.
      Furthermore the editor’s of the Herald, Irish Independent, Daily Mail and any other paper who printed those photo’s should resign.
      This story is undoubtedly news and should be reported.
      However, posting those pictures, on the front page, with the pretence of scolding the people involved is a disgrace.
      I hope every one of those women takes legal action against those papers and wins a fortune.
      Also, the next time privacy laws and libel is discussed in this country, this ‘reporting’ should be remembered.

    • Paddy says:

      History of Facebook Ref:CNET News May 13, 2010

      When this happened: October 2003
      What happened: Call it insidious, childish, or just plain silly: Before he founded Facebook, Harvard undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg had a crazy late-night idea. He broke into online campus directories and used their contents to build Facemash.com, an app that let students vote on which of two of their classmates they thought was more attractive. Facemash created an authentic viral sensation before the marketing world had even caught wind of the term “viral”–and not everybody liked it.
      How Facebook messed up: Well, at the time, “Facebook” didn’t even exist. But Zuckerberg’s actions–hacking into campus directories, pulling the identities of his classmates into a semi-public project without their permission–echo eerily today.
      What Facebook did about it: Following protests from several women’s groups on campus, Harvard shut down Facemash, and the university’s Administrative Board charged Zuckerberg with breaching security, violating copyrights, and violating individual privacy. The charges were ultimately dropped, but Facemash was dead in the water. It’s obvious now, though, that the early seeds of Facebook had been sown.

      Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13577_3-20004853-36.html#ixzz14z096ijt

    • Karl says:

      I do think that the behaviour of PWC employees in circulating the emails is wrong. i don’t necessarily think the photos being reporoduced on the front pages is such a drastic thing. How many of these girls are already well represented on the likes of Facebook in all their glory?

      The photos do say something of the perception of what makes an attractive young woman……….but also of what is perceived as being required on their part to succeed as young professional women……in a male dominated environment.

    • paul ronane says:

      Lovely girls.

      Lets be honest here everyone cares only for the pics and not the news story
      itself…the content is the images, the appeal is the images, the story is the

      After all they made the top 10 they should feel proud, its the ones that didn’t
      make it that I feel sorry for, how must they feel? Also the stereotype of nerdy,
      unattractive intelligent women goes hand in hand with Accountancy/IT and they
      have now put paid to that stereotype, by proving you can be both, intelligent
      and attractive, and be successful at the same time.

    • Emer says:

      Agree completely with this article. Independent and Daily Mail pandering to the lowest common denominator. Printing photographs of those women is NOT in the public interest and does nothing but add a hypocritical tabloid twist to those newspapers’ reporting of the story.

    • Darra says:

      Ironically, perhaps the most offended female PWC employees will be the ones that didn’t make the list……

    • John says:

      Would PWC, assuming they took the photos originally, not have a case against the Indo / Herald / Mail for copyright infringement?

    • Pignorance is bliss says:

      The language may be English but their editorial policy is definitly Pig Latin.

    • Brendan says:

      I wonder are the Indo etc breaching the Data Protection Acts by publishing these photos.. surely they are personal data?

    • Conor Brady says:

      no-one has picked up on the worrying fact that there were 13 on the top 10 list. CPW should investigate this too. I mean, they are meant to be an accounting firm first and foremost..
      Maybe these girls will realise that being a corporate minion isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be – better now than after wasting the best days of thier life… I reckon these guys have done them a favour. Now if the girlies buy all the “we’re only concerned about your welfare” crap that the machine is going to spout out to them for the next few weeks, sorry, but I’d have little sympathy for them…

    • Brian says:

      The whole thing has been blown out of proportion. The lads involved were 2nd year trainees in their early 20′s who were bantering about the “new talent” in the office in the same way that girls and guys have done over coffee since time immemorial, whether at work or in school or college. Even the supposed reference to female genitalia is just a throw-away line from the teenage show “The Inbetweeners”. The boys’ only crime was to do it via e-mail, which only goes to show that they are foolish and immature. I feel very sorry for the girls involved because they’ve been caught up in a media storm, but this story does not demonstrate widespread sexism in the workplace or anything like it.

    • John says:

      Karl (3.05pm) doesn’t appear to have much of a working knowledge of copyright. The fact that the people in question may have Facebook accounts (an assumption on his part in any event) has absolutely no bearing on the newspapers publishing photos to which they do not own the copyright. Let’s turn the situation around. If I got a copy of the Indo and re-published all the articles it contained and tried to sell it, I don’t think I would be long in hearing from Simon McAleese &Co (the Indo’s solicitors).

    • cockneyrebel says:

      @25 Just as you don’t seem to have picked up on the initials of the firm….Derr…!
      PwC need to look into their HR policies seems that they have a very definite profile of the ‘successful’ PwC employee…

      Btw females over 18 years are women…not girls or ‘girlies’…! Welcome to the 21 st century

    • Gerry says:

      I think that PWC in pursuing the culprits in this case should also pursue a case against the Daily Mail and Independent Newspapers and not leave it up to the girls themselves to sue. The newspapers stole the photos which presumably are the property of PWC.
      Also, Indo journalists Dearbhaill McDonald’s comments on Vincent Brown’s programme on TV3 last night were bizarre, notwithstanding the fact that she was struggling not to criticise here employer. She seemed to suggest that the girls might be lucky and get jobs in modeling as a result of the publicity. Oh yeah, that’s just what they wanted!

    • SN says:

      Agree with above statements that the media made a decision to reprint private photos, regardless of how they obtained them (e.g. the dirty email), they were obviously company mugshots and they made an editorial decision to reprint them. The ignorant culture of the young idiots who sent the emails is actually supported by those in the Irish media who printed the photos (Herald – no suprise, Indo – I’m disappointed).

    • Ali says:

      The name of PwC completely spoiled due to such report which emerged in local newspaper in completely unacceptable manners. Being foreigner, my experince in PwC Dublin is absolutely great.


    • JG says:

      I think I’m more concerned that accountants don’t understand a paper-trail.

    • Brian Daly says:

      Well I have to commend the IT for publishing the names of the male employees that circulated the e-mail, where it originated and how it passed along and to what other companies received it. The guys seemed to be the only people escaping media coverage so far.

      It is worth also noting the recent assignments that PwC had within the Irish banking industry. When their staff seem to be more interested in eyeing up their female colleagues and they include 13 pictures in their Top 10, one has to ask how fit for purpose this company is. It seems to be quite good in the billing department by all acounts. At this point this company should be barred from all state contracts for its behaviour. Up to now government departments have been saying that only these companies can do certain tasks because they nobody else is big enough. Quite clearly, case after case is demonstrating that any local accountant on the village main st. would be as competent as any of these big guys.

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