Citi offers questionable tips for female employees

Easily Amused blog and citi logoWhen the blog Easily Amused posted the following link, we figured it had to be a joke. It's not. The blog says the document was pilfered from a Citibank office during a job interview. If you don't care to click the link, the title of the document, "What NOT to do: What women do to sabotage their careers," should give you a pretty good indication of its contents.

Someone later responded on the blog that the cards were distributed by a former head of diversity at Citi workshops for female employees. A Citi rep told WalletPop via email the list "... may have been used by an individual in HR," although a Citi rep responding to a blog post from the Los Angeles Times about the list said it was not part of a human resources program at the bank. The rep who responded to WalletPop's query said the list wasn't part of "formal" HR communication.

Formal, informal or otherwise, the list itself is weirdly condescending. For example, No. 2, "Women groom in public -- emphasizes your femininity and de-emphasizes your capability," and no.10, "Offer a limp handshake -- one good pump and a concise greeting combined with solid eye contact will do the trick," may both be true in a general sense, but there's one huge catch. These aren't female-specific traits. We've read laments sent to etiquette columnists about male co-workers who indulge in desktop fingernail-clipping and other icky personal chores, and limp handshakes are by no means an XX chromosome-only phenomenon.

Other tips are questionable regardless of gender. No. 8 starts with, "Play fair -- women tend to be more naive." That's kind of a strange statement, but the rest of the tip really left us scratching our heads. "A woman might assume the rules have to be obeyed whereas a man will figure out a way to stretch the rules and not be punished." Do you really want your bank to "stretch the rules?" This makes us wonder if Citi's definition of "stretching the rules" includes the failure to disclose its subprime mortgage exposure. If so, looks like whoever masterminded that plan forgot to read the last portion of that rule about not getting punished: Citi is facing a $75 million settlement by securities regulators for that maneuver.

While the tip sheet sources a 2004 self-help book for women in business that's pretty well regarded -- at least, if what purchasers on Amazon have to say is any indication -- WalletPop thinks something was lost in the translation. Statements such as "Women ask permission -- children are taught to ask permission," a rather patronizing correlation, is followed up by this blanket statement: "Men don't ask permission, they inform." Do sweeping generalizations like this really have a place in today's multifaceted workplace?

The commenter on the original blog post, who identified herself as a female Citi employee, writes, "...[the cards] are handed out at workshops geared toward women, often hosted by 'Women's Councils' that exist in various Citi locations."

The Citi rep who replied to the L.A. Times' blog post wrote, "...[I]t appears that material from a published book by a noted expert in the field of executive coaching was shared with a limited number of individuals within the company. The material in question is not part of formal Human Resources communications or any other communications or training program, including Citi's global programs on women's leadership." The statement is carefully worded, and the company is clearly stepping away from the list. But we still don't know how often it was used in training. And what does a "limited number" of employees really mean, anyway?

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