Yvonne Ridley: Torrid men-only events like the Presidents Club dinner speak volumes about London's Square Mile

CommonSpace columnist Yvonne Ridley says it's time to make sexist captains of industry squirm

UNBELIEVABLE! No wonder there are so few women in Britain's boardrooms.

Heading in to 2018 in the wake of the explosive #Metoo campaign we now learn that a group of filthy rich, largely privileged white blokes rocked up to a bawdy men-only charity dinner where hostesses say they were groped and sexually harassed.

One of those who helped organise the event - David Mellor - quit his non-executive job as a board director with the UK Government's Department for Education. (This Mellor should not be confused with the married Tory Minister David Mellor – whose affair with a 31-year-old actress, Antonia de Sancha, was exposed by media back in 1992).

You'd think the days of rich privileged white men staring at women's breasts with their leering, dirty smiles would have long gone but now we know this culture is alive and kicking in London's Square Mile.

Celebrity host David Walliams said he was "appalled" by the revelations in a London newspaper about the posh, sexist event which attracted 360 executives from the world of finance, politics and business. The lurid details of their antics recorded by two undercover Financial Times journalists speaks volumes about the corporate shenanigans in London's financial city.

Since 2011-2017, the number of female boardroom executives in FTSE 100 companies has gone from just 12.5 per cent to 27.7 per cent - a miserly increase of just over 15 percentage points. Now we know why - those who are making the appointments are the sort of men who turned up at the Dorchester for the Presidents Club men-only bash.

You'd think the days of rich privileged white men staring at women's breasts with their leering, dirty smiles would have long gone but now we know this culture is alive and kicking in London's Square Mile. The women present were clearly there in a servile, subservient role to wait on these vile masters of the universe.

The only women at last Thursday's event were specially hired hostesses who were instructed to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. All were asked to sign a five-page non-disclosure agreement about the event upon arrival at the hotel and were not warned they might be sexually harassed.

The event has been running for more than three decades and was notorious in the City for the behaviour of some of the men.

While some may feign innocence I have to ask why any British businessman thought it was right and proper to attend a men-only event of this nature in 2018.

While some may feign innocence I have to ask why any British businessman thought it was right and proper to attend a men-only event of this nature in 2018. This event speaks volumes about the lack of progress for women in London's Square Mile.

Former Department for Education non-executive board member David Meller, new education minister Nadhim Zahawi and the controversial retail tycoon Sir Philip Green were among the men who attended. 

The full guest list now needs to be published so we can see who was there and then let's compare gender pay gaps as well - that would be revealing. Let's make these captains of industry squirm.

Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons, education minister Anne Milton confirmed that Meller, founder of the Meller Educational Trust, was "absolutely clear" that stepping down was the "right thing to do". 

Predictably there's been much hand-wringing, excuses and apologies from executives who attended, but the saddest comment of all has come out of Downing Street where we are told that Theresa May feels "uncomfortable". 

The full guest list now needs to be published so we can see who was there and then let's compare gender pay gaps as well - that would be revealing. Let's make these captains of industry squirm.

The Number 10 spokesman added that it was "an event she wouldn't be invited to". Of course she wouldn't, you fool. That's the point. it was men only. If May had gone it would have been in black knickers and high heels.

Thankfully, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's reaction was more appropriate. She tweeted: "This is brave reporting from the FT, exposing behaviour that is outrageous and unacceptable."

The best reaction of the day came from my mate Nigel who fired off an email to Ocado to inform the company he was dropping them. He wrote: "In light of the fact that Ocado CEO and founder, Tim Steiner, paid for tickets and attended the men-only Presidents Club dinner last week at the Dorchester Hotel, I am emailing to let you know I will no longer be using your services for supermarket shopping.

"If the CEO of Ocado wittingly pays for tickets to an exclusive and secretive event that does not allow women to attend, yet pays for 130 young women to attend as 'hostesses', this speaks volumes about the business ethos of Ocado".

It was quite a lengthy missive and included: "This is 2018 and I refuse to spend one more penny with a company that has a founder and CEO who sees no harm in privileged wealthy men hiring young women as fetishised token trophies. Words cannot express my disgust and utter contempt. Those at the very top of British businesses have a duty to condemn such events not be party and privy to it."

We need more men like Nigel and less of the vile men who turned up at this event.

Picture courtesy of Paolo

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