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Don’t leave it to others

We all need to speak out against sexist behaviour, says Eveleen Hatch

The dark days of January are at last over and somehow it feels like we are already well into 2018. Perhaps this is because a lot seems to have happened in the events industry and beyond.

Event organisers expressed shock that Marriott would be slashing agency rates from 10% to 7%, elsewhere people were perplexed that President Trump remained mainly on script in Davos, even though he couldn’t resist a comment about ‘fake news’.

Meanwhile, on LinkedIn a battle has been raging. Why weren’t event professionals and the industry’s publications speaking out about disgraceful goings on at the Presidents Club following the Financial Times’ undercover scoop of 2018. Young women in high heels and seductive clothing who had to be ‘tall, thin and pretty’ were being paraded around like cattle in front of powerful, rich men. The all-male guest list then proceeded to ogle, prod, grope and worse while lots of money was being raised for Great Ormond Street Hospital. Yet, very few people in our industry seemed to be expressing shock or condemning the behaviour – were they trying to sweep the whole tawdry affair under the carpet?

The main reason not enough events professionals have spoken out may be through fear. Perhaps it is fear of expressing an opinion in case of repercussions or maybe they don’t feel qualified to stick their head over the parapet for such an emotive subject.

By contrast, some national newspaper commentators have been complaining there has been too much outcry, the feminists are on their bandwagons again, the girls knew what they were letting themselves in for (what, a lion’s den of iniquity?). Some expressed regret that Great Ormond Street missed out on a big charity donation after they handed back the money in disgust.

However, many people who have lived through at least the last four decades may have been feeling hugely disappointed that little seems to have changed since the Wolf of Wall Street-style days of the 1980s and 90s if this event was anything to go by. 

I am old enough to remember a time when women needed a rhino skin and enough hedgehog prickles just to survive a day in the office. For example, in the mid-80s I was once given a bottle of conditioner and a screw as a Secret Santa present and will leave you to work the meaning of that little gift for yourself.

At my first ever job at the age of 18, I was handed a pair of red lacy knickers by my boss from the boot of his car – apparently, it was just harmless fun and he gave them out to all the women at Christmas.

Thankfully, office environments have improved to a great extent since the bad old days but who knew that unacceptable behaviour is still going on, albeit less openly.  

Something fundamental needs to change and it’s not the attitudes of the victims in all this, the women. It’s those males in powerful positions who still think in this day and age that it’s OK to use their influence to subjugate or abuse women. I would like to ask these men one thing: how would they feel if it was their daughter, granddaughter or sister who ended up being treated in this way?

You might of course, expect me, a confident woman of maturing years to harp on about such matters. But actually, it would have been far easier for me to ignore the issue and stay quiet. For attitudes to really start shifting, we all need to speak out. The kind of behaviour displayed at the Presidents Club is not only no longer acceptable in society but despicable and must be stamped out.

Hopefully, the ‘Presidents Club’ format is rare within the events industry. But, whether we are speaking face to face or on social media, we need to feel we can speak out openly about issues like this. The days of ignoring important subjects like sexual harassment in the workplace are well and truly over.