TfL boss attends 3 men only dinners and doesn’t notice there were no women there

Transport for London boss Sir Peter Hendy is under fire after he accepted an invitation to attend not one, or two, but three dinners from which women are excluded. The Independent has the story:

The CommonSpace website said that Sir Peter, 61, who receives a £348,000 salary, attended the December dinner in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Portman Square, London, as a guest of the Scottish-based bus company Alexander Dennis Ltd. Photos of the event posted on the society’s website showed a “handsome body of men enjoying their dinner” alongside another picture of female performers in thigh-cut dresses who were said to be bringing “a new spectacle to the dinner”.

The golfing society’s rules state membership is open only to “gentlemen associated with the transport industry”, and that the dinner is “for gentlemen only”. Its website described the gathering as “one of the best sporting dinners of the year. With a glamorous string quartet playing exciting music in even more exciting tight dresses, a troupe of can-can dancers and a truly fun atmosphere”. It added: “Over the years we have been privileged to welcome top men from the worlds of sport, industry, show business and politics. They always enthusiastically wave their napkins to the patriotic sounds of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and leap enthusiastically to the feet when their table’s turn comes to sing ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. Some even do the actions!”

To his credit, Sir Peter did issue a statement that made it sound as though he was genuinely mortified. It says quite a lot about the society we live in when a powerful man can go along to a dinner and not even notice that the only women there are to entertain or serve the male diners. Is it possible that subconsciously that’s what he expects society to be like so he doesn’t question it? This is what he said:

I am not, and never have been, a member of this golfing society. I have no relationship with it and I don’t play golf either. I have been invited, as many industry people are, to the annual dinner by a bus manufacturer, Alexander Dennis. It’s the only invitation I have accepted from them annually, and I have gone to discuss what they make. The highlight of the evening for me has been singing carols. There have been a couple of tedious speeches too. In my memory there has never been inappropriate entertainment of any sort and had there been I would not have stayed or accepted an invitation again.

It never occurred to me there was a policy of excluding women and that hasn’t been referred to in the invitations I have received. Now it’s clear there appears to be such a policy I will on no account accept an invitation again. I abhor sexism in any form and to see it apparently practised in this way is particularly inappropriate in an industry in which women are under represented and in which we are promoting careers, and equality, for women.

I have made a personal donation to the Fawcett Society today, and am writing to Alexander Dennis to make my views very clear and to invite them to dissociate from sexism in an industry that should be encouraging women to join it.

Mayorwatch carries a statement from Liberal Democrat Group Leader on the Greater London Authority, Caroline Pidgeon:

In many respects the transport world, certainly at a senior level, is far too male dominated. This kind of event really confirms that.

I hope TfL follow the lead of Edinburgh council and decide to stop participating in a society that excludes 51% of the population.

At the same time TfL must improve their transparency record over the declaration of gifts and hospitality given to senior staff. The full details of this event should have been in the public domain.

Of the 17 TfL board members, only 4 are women. That is pretty appalling. How can Sir Peter look those women in the eye after he has attended an industry networking event which would exclude them?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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19 Comments

  • There is something distasteful about a dinner for men only – quite frankly I am surprised that such an event is even legal given recent equality legislation. At least Sir Peter was genuinely apologetic though and he deserves credit for that.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Feb '15 - 5:40pm

    It’s good that he made a donation to the Fawcett Society after discovering his error. I wouldn’t sign up for a member of anything that didn’t accept women as full members. I remember thinking this before I was interested in politics, it’s just bad taste and I think makes the place more dull.

    It is surprising he didn’t notice the women were only their to serve the guests after attending three dinners.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Feb '15 - 6:12pm

    In fact, Judy has got me thinking: why don’t we make it illegal for sports and professional societies not to accept women as full members? These are often bastions of power, sporting or otherwise.

    It is not a men’s rights organisation or going down to the pub with a few mates, they are professional societies and should accept women as full members.

  • Thanks for the support Eddie. I agree. I can understand why groups like Fathers4Justice are all-male, and that is of course perfectly understandable, but no registered club or sporting society should be restricted to men, both on principle and because when it comes to dinners and social functions they will almost certainly be relying on, at least some, women to be doing the waiting and the catering. Maybe the word distasteful was a bit strong on my part, but it just doesn’t seem right.

  • Yet nothing is said when women are segregated and discriminated against within other communities?

  • Martin Land 14th Feb '15 - 9:22pm

    I’m not aware of many organisations that continue to refuse women members. I am aware of an increasing number of women’s organisations that exclude men.

  • Ironic that this should happen in the bus industry.

    Just go and have a look at the gender balance of bus passengers in most places up and down the country!

  • Tsar Nicolas 15th Feb '15 - 3:15pm

    Gender balance is not the issue. If women had been present at the dinner, they would have been from the upper echelons of society. The 90% would have been excluded.

  • @Tsar Nicholas

    Since the client base for a company selling new buses is obviously pretty small then I would suggest the proportion of society “excluded” would be 99%+. Which is not the point. The issue is that women buying their product (and there are women in the industry) are excluded solely by gender.

    Which is wrong.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong.

  • This is the London in 2015.

    But why should we be surprised in the year when as a reward for his exemplary behaviour towards women, Prince Andrew has just been “promoted” to Vice Admiral ?

    The other scandal is mentioned up front in Caron’s piece – “…that Sir Peter …receives a £348,000 salary”.

    The Prime Minister gets £142,000, the Chief of the Defence Staff gets £250,000, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner gets £260,000.

    Sir Peter Hendy gets £348,000 to play with the London Underground train set and oversee some private bus companies.
    Perhaps it is his ability to sing Land of Hope and Glory?

  • Tsar Nicolas 15th Feb '15 - 7:18pm

    Crewegwyn

    The increasing exclusion of people from the ordinary strata of society is what is wrong, wrong, wrong.

    As in 1% own as much of the world’s wealth as 99%.

    But taking on the power structure that enables this is harder than making a few noises about patriarchy.

  • @Tsar Nicolas – “As in 1% own as much of the world’s wealth as 99%.”

    Careful – you only need to own a house worth more than ~£500k to be a member of the 1% …

  • Roland

    Does it really only take £500k to be part of the1% club? I never realised I was one of them. If people count their house value, pension pots, savings, investments etc I suspect a fair few posters on LDV will be. Still a council house kid at heart, didn’t know I was in the “upper echelons of society”.

  • I find the this article quite irritating.

    I’ve attended many industry events over the years and whilst I may have noted the lack of women attendee’s, it wouldn’t of directly raised questions because it is well known that women are under represented at senior levels in industry. But then I suppose given some of the events I’ve accepted invites from suppliers and attended, some round here would construe that I support the arms trade, police state’s and the Freemason’s…

    No the only story here is that there still are organisations – and it’s odd that the majority seem to be “Golf Clubs”, who continue to have discriminatory membership policies. It is odd therefore that Caron and others have decided to vent their spleens on a non-member attendee rather than the Transport Golfing Society and it’s actual members.

  • John Roffey 15th Feb '15 - 8:32pm

    Tsar Nicolas 15th Feb ’15 – 3:15pm

    “Gender balance is not the issue. If women had been present at the dinner, they would have been from the upper echelons of society. The 90% would have been excluded.”

    If the Party should be fortunate enough to get a new start after the GE – with the departure of NC from its ranks of MPs or a leadership election because he is no longer member of the government – it will need to decide what is more important – a serious attempt at the equalisation of wealth or ensuring gender balance – for the two issues will conflict at times as TN points out.

    Both objectives are extremely difficult to achieve and I would suggest that combined – virtually impossible. If these aims are of serious intent, and not just PR – then one needs to be given priority – if clarity is to be established.

  • I’m gender blind.

    People tell me I’m a man, and I believe them.

  • @Malc – Yes I found it an interesting perspective on the recent Oxfam wealth report, effectively grounding just who the world’s 1% are (circa 70 million people), because we all like to think that we can’t possibly be that rich…

  • “you only need to own a house worth more than ~£500k to be a member of the 1%”

    Owning your own house seems pretty flash to me, to be honest, whatever it’s worth. And £500k would get you a seven bedroom mansion around here. So I don’t really understand the “only” in that sentence.

  • Jennie – the work ‘only’ is used in the interests of keeping things simple and tangible – so as malc notes, many people (particularly those 50+ with a lifetime of savings) if they totalled all their various assets would discover they a re members of the world’s 1%…

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