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This Is Why Groping at 'Stomach-Churning' Mens-Only Charity Gala Is So Concerning

When you’re told your uniform is matching black underwear and “black sexy shoes,” it’s unlikely to come as a surprise that a significant part of your job is fending away the unwanted attention of drunk men. 

That’s what two undercover reporters for the Financial Times discovered last week at the annual men-only charity gala known as the Presidents Club charity dinner, on which they wrote a report published on Wednesday.

The gala is a highlight of the social calendar for London's elite men, held in the ballroom of the prestigious Dorchester Hotel, and staffed largely by 130 women who are hired specially as hostesses for the night. 

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What the reporters found at the event were allegations of abuse, sexual harassment, and groping that leading female politicians have described as “stomach-churning.” 

Women reported men putting their hands up their skirts, repeatedly inviting them to join them in their rooms, and, on at least one occasion, exposing themselves. 

One woman was reportedly told to “down that glass, rip off your knickers, and dance on that table.” 

Disgusting as the alleged behaviour is, it’s unfortunately what you might expect at what the host sports broadcaster Jonny Gould reportedly described as the “most un-PC event of the year.” 

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What is deeply shocking, however, is the calibre, power, and standing of the 360 male guests who were behaving in that way. 

These are some of the most powerful men in business, banking, and entertainment — these are celebrities, entrepreneurs, politicians, oligarchs, property tycoons, and chief executives. In short, these are the men who, essentially, still run the world. 

Just think how many women are on the collective payrolls of these men — working for organisations which increasingly are trying to convey a public-facing message of gender equality. 

In a time where gender equality in the workplace is under increasing scrutiny — thanks to revelations of the prevalence of everyday sexual harassment made by the Me Too campaign — to have such a gap between how the companies run by these men present themselves in public, and how the men in charge conduct themselves when they think no one’s looking, is deeply destructive. 

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Maria Miller MP, chair of the parliamentary committee on women and equalities, highlighted the serious hypocrisy that this evidences. 

“British business needs to take a long hard look at itself,” said Miller, in light of the revelations made about the Presidents Club gala. “How seriously is business taking equality at work if they are still using men only events for entertainment?” 

“If business leaders are simply paying lip service to equality issues then perhaps it’s time the government gives the Equality Act some real teeth?” she said.

Among the “hostesses” for the night were students hoping to become lawyers and marketing executives. Some, according to the FT report, were even offered jobs by some of the men at the event — although the report didn’t elaborate on what work was being offered. 

“Men from across political, business, and entertainment worlds are implicated in this grotesque circus of sleazy rich men pawing at young women and buying crude ‘lots’ in the name of charity,” said leader of the Women’s Equality party, Sophie Walker.

“Those who are worried that women’s confrontation of sexual harassment has gone too far and turned into a ‘witch hunt’, look no further,” she added. 

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Meanwhile Jo Swinson, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, described the event as “simply stomach-churning,” and said it was a fine example of how the “rotten sexist culture [is] still alive and kicking in parts of the business community.” 

“Time’s up on this crap,” she added. 

The Presidents Club told the FT that the organisers were “appalled by the allegations of bad behaviour at the event.” 

“Such behaviour is totally unacceptable,” it added. “The allegations will be investigated fully and promptly and appropriate action taken.” 

What the allegations indicate is that the Me Too campaign, and the wider fight for gender equality in the workplace, still has a long way to go. Before there can be true equality in the workplace, the mindsets of those rich men in charge needs a serious re-adjustment. 

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If the belief in gender equality is on such a shallow level that they can still be happy to partake in the casual harassment of young women when they’re off the clock, how can they ever take these same young women seriously as colleagues and peers during the 9 to 5? 

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN Global Goals, which includes action for gender equality. You can join us by taking action here in support of the #LeveltheLaw campaign, which aims to put an end to laws that discriminate women around the world.