Sexism And The City: Let’s End Male Only Meetings

All that demeaning and puerile behaviour at the Presidents Club charity event has flushed out yet more male misogyny. But it’s still everywhere in the City.

And not just after hours. A new book of ‘dos and don’ts from the world’s best investors’ includes only one woman amongst 67 contributors. A recent list of the ‘top 25 fund managers’ found only four women worthy of inclusion.

The Presidents Club behaviour suggests that many professional men are simply congenital sexists when left for too long to their own devices. Perhaps all that talk about equality is just adopted for a quieter life? More a marketing decision than a moral one.

So, here’s a bold idea to help men get it and to behave better until they do: Ban business events where only they get invited. Don’t worry, we’ll even share our best investment tips.

Meanwhile, the female-blind book on investing does at least unwittingly demand the answer to one obvious question: Just where are all the women investors?

Well, part of the answer is plainly that they’re struggling to be heard, let alone accepted and honoured. And we are.

When I tried to buy a flat on my own the estate agent objected because I surely needed to confer with my husband. The same happens routinely with car or even jewellery purchases.

As it happens, I am the main wage earner in my household with a supportive husband who stays at home. The routine and even unconscious sexism that I and all women face, from school career options to encounters with sales people, looks like being the last male shibboleth to fall, withering only over time and in the face of more immediate scandal.

Ignoring women is not only sexist, it’s stupid. In my extensive experience of female investors they are often less reckless than men, far more open to sustainable businesses and support those that show good corporate responsibility. A win-win after all the recent largely male-led economic crises, you might think.

Women are also living longer than men, having careers and money to invest. They are not passive in society, even if the City and much of the media still treats us that way.

We also make the often saner household finance decisions, and are the ones who teach our children how to manage money.

But there is more at stake. We have as a country made financial services a key industry. It is time for that industry to grow up and stop behaving like some privileged freemasonry, answerable to none but itself. And institutions that feed off it, such as publishing, also need to play their part.

Perhaps the furore over the Presidents Club will mark another key moment in changing attitudes. But it is striking how the outrage is being led by women. It would be worth a lot more if led by men.

It just isn’t good enough for male attenders to express regret afterwards. Where was their thinking beforehand? Why is a gathering that excludes women even dignified by celebrities and politicians? The outrage lies as much here as it does with appalling objectification of the ‘hostesses’.

Why didn’t the organisers of the dinner see that a fleet of ‘hostesses’ was going to be inappropriate? Even use of the word seems to be a calculated return to the relegated status of women before the era of ‘cabin crew’ on aircraft. Clearly, there is still a way to go with it, too. There are still, for instance, ‘hostess trolleys’ for sale at John Lewis: inert, inanimate and servile instruments.

A fear is that all, in fact, we are witnessing in the Presidents Club scandal is the UK Establishment scrambling to distance itself because of reputational damage they were, once again, too indifferent about to anticipate in advance.