Citi to Women: Grow a Pair, But Don’t Be Too Hot?


Blogs on Friday lit up about a memo handed out to Citibank employees which suggested that female employees needed to act more like men in order to succeed at work.

Highlights from the memo, which excerpted from author Dr. Lois P. Frankel’s book, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office 101, include: warning women that their handshakes are too weak and that they smile too much; advising them to sit in “power positions,” instead of sitting demurely, and telling them to quit playing fair (“a woman might assume that rules have to be obeyed whereas a man will find a way to stretch the rules and not be punished”).

If Frankel’s list is an example of the way a company like Citi handles gender discrimination (ladies: Apparently, you can pre-empt the discrimination by just acting like a man), the memo must have bypassed Debrahlee Lorenzana. Lorenzana is the Citibanker who we first reported was fired from her job, allegedly because her bosses thought she was so hot that they couldn’t concentrate on work. Lorenzana has a (surgically enhanced) Barbie Doll figure. The clothes she wore to work were ultra-feminine — a style choice she attributed to her Puerto Rican heritage — but not inappropriate. Her bosses gave her a list of clothing items she was no longer allowed to wear — high-heeled shoes and basic pencil skirts were among the items they found to be too distracting — but Lorenzana refused to change.

Angry about the unfair treatment — other women in the office were not subjected to these rules — she appealed to HR (we have copies of her letters). Instead of giving her a copy of Frankel’s list, HR representatives ultimately transferred her to another branch. When she was fired, Lorenzana says, a manager told her that she just didn’t fit in with the culture at Citi.

While Lorenzana never said she acted in the ways Frankel talks about, perhaps the list would have made her think about whether the feminine signals she was giving off were causing her bosses to take her less seriously. She might have adopted power handshakes (item #10), and spoken more loudly at staff meetings (Item #1).

Then again, it’s doubtful that any of Frankel’s tactics would have worked for Lorenzana. Her bosses, in their own twisted way, were already trying to get her to be less feminine. Lorenzana, for her part, says she would have been a target “even if she came to work wearing a paper bag.” But we’ll never know: A lady like Lorenzana would never be caught dead wearing a paper bag.

A Citi spokeswoman, Natalie Riper, acknowledges that the materials were passed out, but tells the Voice that they are not part of the wider company’s human resources policy or its “global programs on women’s leadership.”

Lorenzana’s case is headed toward arbitration, her Los Angeles-based attorney, Gloria Allred, tells us.