Revelations by Financial Times undercover journalists, about the sexual harassment which took place at an event held by the men-only fundraising charity the Presidents Club, will come as little surprise to women who have worked in the hospitality industry.
Many of the guests were quick to promote their “good boys who left by nine and didn’t see any funny business” credentials, yet seem to see no problem in the concept of an all-male event with all-female waiting staff who had been told to wear short, tight, dresses. It was obvious from the set up that these women were meant to be objects of entertainment, whether or not any guests assaulted them.
In Unite’s “Not on the Menu” survey of hospitality workers, 89% of respondents said they had experienced one or more incidents of sexual harassment in their working life. 56.3% said they had been targeted by a member of the public. 22.7% said they had been harassed by a manager. 77% said that there were not aware of their workplace having an anti-sexual harassment policy.
The FT revelations were also not a surprise to women working in the kind of big businesses which regularly paid large sums for tables at the Presidents Club for their male executives. In October last year, Jayne-Anne Gadhia, chief executive of Virgin Money, published her review for the government on sexism in the financial services sector. Speaking to the Treasury Select Committee she concluded that there was “undoubtedly ... a sort of pervading sexism” in the industry. She reported on her own experiences: “I remember a very senior woman [at RBS] being very upset one day telling me that she was expected to sleep with her boss”. A senior executive had recently asked her why he should hire a woman for a top job “when she could turn round the next day and say, ‘I’m pregnant’”.
The financial industry seems to have decided it needs to clean its act up. The FT’s investigation, following a series of exposé, may be prompted by the #metoo movement which so dramatically showed how ubiquitous sexual harrassment and assault is.
The UK’s Women in Finance Charter, a group of big asset managers, have set up a gender diversity drive, and the director-general of the Institute of Directors has warned boards should take the issue of sexual harassment “extremely seriously”.
Yet among the rich men at the top, sexual harassment is still seen as one of the perks of the “old boy” networks which underlie big business.