A woman going undercover as a hostess at an all-male fundraiser might conjure up certain images in your head. And well, you’d be absolutely right!
On Tuesday, Madison Marriage published a story in the Financial Times detailing her experience as a hostess at last week’s ultra exclusive, black-tie, male-only Presidents Club Charity Dinner hosted in the ballroom of the Dorchester Hotel, London.
Surrounded by 300 elite businessmen from the worlds of business, politics, sports, finance and more, 130 hostesses were there to serve and entertain. Required to be “tall, thin and pretty”, they were dressed in matching uniforms. High heels, short dresses, corset belts, and matching black underwear were the order of the day.
Guests were greeted by a roar from Jonny Gould “Welcome to the most un-PC event of the year,”.
While a full page ad in the brochure did warn against sexual harassment. It seems this warning fell on deaf ears. As many were repeatedly groped, propositioned, and lunged at. I would also think that if your event *needs* a full-page warning against sexual harassment then there’s an issue. One which a bit of paper probably won’t fix. And it didn’t.
One 19-year-old hostess declared “I’ve never done this before, and I’m never doing it again…It’s f***ing scary.”
The focus of the event, which is a fundraiser for a children’s hospital, was an auction. This featured lots such as a lunch with Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary, or an afternoon tea with Bank of England governor, Mark Carney. So far, so posh. However, other lots had a more sinister edge.
(You can watch the insider footage from the event below, or here.)
Lot 7 was a private party a Soho’s Windmill Club. Surrounded by 100 of your closest friends, with entertainment to be provided by 50 dancers. You’d also get your first lapdance free, a glass of champagne, and a smoked salmon bagel. I guess acting the eejit is hungry work. Lot 8 was labelled “A Chance to Enhance”. A selection of plastic surgery from award-winning 111 Harley Street. Advertised as a way to “…to take years off your life or add spice to your wife”.
One 28-year-old noted that by the end of the night a line of younger women looked “…shocked and frightened, exhausted by what had happened”.
Hostesses had their phones locked away, were monitored to see how long they spent in the toilet, encouraged not to tell partners the truth about the event. And were made sign a nondisclosure agreement. Which according to Marriage they weren’t given time to properly read nor were they allowed to take a copy home.
Given #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein, and every other case, you’d think that we’re starting to wake up. You might also be forgiven for thinking it would be safe to work at a charity auction for a children’s hospital. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. What makes this story even more maddening is the response of those in charge when presented with the allegations.
Caroline Dandridge, the founder of Artista, responsible for the hiring of the hostess claimed, “There is a code of conduct that we follow, I am not aware of any reports of sexual harassment and with the calibre of guest, I would be astonished.” None of the trustees for the Presidents Club Charity commented on the story. In fact, the president of the club merely shrugged it off, telling FT he hadn’t been in a decade. But when he was it was “very nice and civilised” and “What goes on now is not my business”. Charming.
In the wake of these allegations, senior British MPs are calling for the Equality Act to be stepped up. Labour MP Jess Phillips stated the event was a “… horrendous example of rich men acting with disgusting entitlement.” While Maria Miller, MP and the chair of the parliamentary committee on women and equalities has said: “British business need to take a long hard look at itself. How seriously is business taking equality at work if they are still using men only events for entertainment?”
We couldn’t agree more. It’s high time such events were no longer acceptable, and those who engage in such acts were held responsible. People should not be able to hide behind money and power, and it’s fairly apparent that this is not the first time this event has led to women being assaulted. The recent events at the President Club Charity Dinner highlight how many in positions of power still feel comfortable to act as they see fit behind closed doors.