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Dear Sirs... How can we take you seriously when you sponsor and attend these events?

From Hollywood to The City, they’ve agreed TimesUp on unequal pay and harassment. But are the ‘efforts’ anything but lip service?, asks Aisling Thorn.

Aisling Thorn

THIS MORNING, The Financial Times reported that women working at a black tie, male-only Presidents Club charity dinner last week were harassed and “groped”. The paper sent in reporters, working undercover as two of the specially-hired hostesses for the evening. They were in a room with 360 figures from British business, politics, finance and the entertainment industries and their accounts of the night reveal harassment, groping and other inappropriate behaviour from some of those attendees.

This is an open letter to every business which participated in and every man who attended that event at The Dorchester, London

Dear Sirs,

Entire industries, it seems, are saying the right things right now on the trendy subject of gender equality. From Hollywood to The City, they’ve agreed that TimesUp on unequal pay and harassment.

But are their ‘efforts’ anything but lip service?

Well, reading the incomplete attendee list of the now-infamous Presidents Club charity dinner, forgive me for thinking so.

I spent my walk to and from work looking around me wondering who was there? Would that guy have gone? Or would the gent over there have said anything?

Why is society still participating in these events?

Many organisations say they are hell-bent on giving women leadership opportunities but how can we take you seriously when you sponsor events like this?

There are many reasons for the gender pay gap and the stubbornly low percentage of women on boards across the world (more acute in certain industries which had a stellar representation at this dinner).

An event like this highlights the culture. It puts the spotlight on a way of life that many of us who have climbed those male-dominated ladders, and tried to smash those glass ceilings, are unfortunately so acquainted with.

Changing a culture takes time but it is something that will never happen if our male business and political leaders attend events where hostesses – not wait staff, but ‘hostesses’ – are hired to provide… what exactly? They were instructed to wear “sexy” clothing and engage the clients, while delivering the odd drink if asked.

It will never happen if those same men – who are our bosses and political representatives – bid against each other for “prizes” that include a trip to a strip club and a boob job for the wife.

Many of the attendees will say that they saw no evidence of harassment, nevermind being the perpetrator of same. But I ask those who believe they were merely chowing down on an expensive plate at The Dorchester in the name of charity or downing tequila for the good of the children in the UK, did you stop and think about your female colleagues?

Let’s think about them now then. That woman who led that meeting you were at today. Or the new recruit in the office down the hall. How do you think they feel about you sitting through an evening that made us the entertainment?

Did any of the attendees stand up and say this is wrong? I was not there so I cannot say… but if there were no objections to the format of the evening, then that says a lot about how women are – consciously or subconsciously – viewed by your fellow diners.

Will you only ever speak up when we are watching? Are we to think that the next time we attend a meeting with you that your initial thought is that our role ought to be turning up, looking pretty and, perhaps letting out a demure giggle or two, but only when spoken to? Even if you correct that initial thought, is it your first one?

Some of the men who attended this event may be seen by many in society as role models. Their attendance – and yours – validates this view of women.

But, let us be clear. It is not OK.

Our purpose in life is not to look a certain way for you or to be your entertainment. We have children with you, we co-manage your household, we own businesses, we manage teams, we lead countries – often, all at once. We are more than what your subconscious sees or believes.

How are we ever supposed to lead – and be your bosses – if you really just view us as the entertainment, or the help? It should be, and actually is, quite easy though. If you are serious about women in leadership you wouldn’t attend or sponsor events like this.

Changing a culture is hard, making a choice not to take up an invite is not.

Aisling Thorn works in the city of London. All views are her own and do not reflect those of the company she works for.

Read: The Presidents Club to close down following sexual harassment claims

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Aisling Thorn

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