Yesterday’s headline news was dominated by the Presidents Club and the treatment of some of the hostesses at the event. In case you haven’t been in touch with the news, here’s the report.
There was an annual, exclusive charity dinner at the Prestigious Dorchester Hotel, run for the last 33 years by the Presidents Club: a male only club where CEOs, captains of industry and finance pay a significant sum of money to attend the dinner. The annual dinner has raised millions of pounds for charities, including the Children’s hospital GOSH. However, the dinner “A best kept secret in the City” has become known as the Slimeball Gala due to the report (above) in the Financial Times. Why? because the dinner appears to be a glorified “Gentlemens’ Club” AKA a Laptop or Topless club for many guests – or at least that was their expectation. However, this was not how it was sold to the hostesses who were employed to work at the event, or the charities benefiting from the funding.
The women were auditioned based on looks, size, height and build for the roles of hostesses. They were asked to wear black underwear and high black shoes; they were told how to do their make up and their uniforms were provided which were black, low necked and short. There is nothing wrong with this, and when you are in the hospitality business there is often guidance on what to wear, and type of make up. There was a hint to a few women that the guests might get frisky, but their role was to make the event fun for the men and to encourage them to spend more money on the auction prizes. Before the event started they had to sign a disclosure document to say they wouldn’t discuss anything that happened at the event, repeat anything overheard, or anything that happened. Again, this is normal: there are plenty of private events where there are confidentiality documents that have to be signed, however, the women weren’t given the time to read these or to take a copy.
The women were then paraded with a featured entrance before being allocated to the tables. There were men who got ‘frisky’ according to the reports. Some of the featured entertainment was a burlesque dance from professional dancers. Whilst it is clear that hands up women’s skirts and groping are unacceptable, I don’t believe the reported holding hands is in any way sexual harassment. The lewd comments, demands and behaviour including a penis being shown. Yes really, are. Yet these hostesses were not booked to work in these conditions and since they had received no directive about managing this, were powerless.
My complaint about this event is that we can’t expect women and men – there are occasions where male waiters are harassed, to work in the hospitality industry when there isn’t a way of hostesses and waiters being comfortable managing the situation. In this case it was clear the event management team knew EXACTLY what type of event it was and the expectation of some of the guests. However, it was not sold as that sort of event to the hostesses who were young and earning money for university fees etc. Some of the women hid in the loos, only for the organisers to tell them to get back outside – without addressing what the problems were.
It is particularly difficult for individuals working whether they are freelance or cast within an organisation, within the hospitality industry. Do they have a voice? Are they protected from this lewd behaviour without fear of losing their job or being blacklisted for future work? No one has to work in these conditions. They were booked as hostesses, and the job description did not include fighting off drunk, delusional middle aged men. I hope the time has come where women and men in this position will know where to ask for help to feel safe when they work. But also that employers or bookers should be responsible for ensuring the safety of any freelancer they have booked – including sexual harassment and making it very clear