The Presidents Club is not the only prestigious men only event

The Presidents Club Dinner has been in the news this week, but I was reminded that this was not the only example of a men only dinner for powerful men at which women were there to provide little more than decoration and entertainment.

Two years ago, Caroline Pidgeon spoke out when the TfL chairman managed to attend 3 dinners without noticing that there were no women there. I wrote at the time:

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?

Let’s hope that these events finally become a bad memory of an embarrassing past.

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

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7 Comments

  • A good reminder of how long standing this issue.

    A really teeny clarification: The story refers to Sir Peter Hendy, who was for many years the Commissioner of Transport for London (not the chair). The chair of TfL is the Mayor of London – so back at the time of this story it was Boris Johnson.

    Sir Peter Hendy has now left TfL – but his role in public life has certainly not ended. He is now chair of Network Rail and also the London Legacy Development Corporation.

  • Phil Beesley 26th Jan '18 - 4:26pm

    This event might be described as a social anachronism, an expression which I presumed to be understood by Bing and Google.

    There is something about a failed man.

  • Richard Easter 26th Jan '18 - 6:56pm

    Probably not just women excluded – I wonder how many “gentlemen associated with the transport industry” include working class bus drivers, train guards, taxi drivers, customer service assistants or ticket office staff?

  • The invitees will presumably be the “movers and shakers” who influence bus buying decisions.

    Quite a few of whom are women these days.

    Lib Dems in authorities who operate bus companies (not many left I realise) may wish to check whether any of their managers/ councillors attended.

    FoI requests in Halton, Warrington, Rossendale, Blackpool, Edinburgh, Nottingham. Newport, Cardiff, Reading, Ipswich ?

  • And of course the big mover and shaker behind the Dennis bus concern is no less than Brian Souter – who is a major participant with Branson in the East Coast main line and benefited from a multi-million pound concession from Chris Grayling recently.

    He’s also a donor to the SNP and had things to say on Section 28.

    Don’t know if he was there – but his company was.

  • I’m not sure it’s the fact that it was a single sex event. I’ve inadvertently been to one male only charity event – it was dull as dishwater but I went at the invitation of a supplier. My wife has been to a few female only events – they apparently have been pretty good. Personally I wouldn’t be ina hurry to attend another single sex event but would not feel the need to ban them.

    This event was about the abuse of power. In this case it was aggravated because it was the abuse of power by men (mainly I suspect middle aged or older and powerful) against younger women most of who were just trying to earn enough to make ends meet. I Marine if we continue to dig deep enough some sleazy powerful men will be inappropriate to hostesses at mixed events.

  • Martin Walker 27th Jan '18 - 6:21pm

    Its good that – initially through excellent journalism – a light is being shone on these appalling events. However, even on the optimistic assumption that these will be a thing of the past, there is a long way to go in terms of these kind of events, even when they are not officially male only.

    Moving from the public sector to one of the country’s largest private sector companies a few years ago, I was invited to a charitable gala type dinner a few years ago. I naively went along thinking that it was good CSR on behalf of the company, supporting one of their partner charities (a very well known and well regarded charity).

    Officially it certainly wasn’t male only. However, 90% of the guests were male (because 90% of the senior managers in that industry were male). The event was hosted by a man with convictions for assault and harassment, and watching sleazy, drunken men bidding large sums of money for a young, female sports news presenter to sit at their table, to win contracts off their mates, was little better than the Presidents Club in terms of its exclusivity and objectification of women.

    Business, and the charities who host these events to raise money – and not just the officially male only events – need to take a good look at themselves.

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