All the President’s Men

25th January 2018

Written by

All the President’s Men

When a colleague and I were discussing the salubrious goings-on at the President’s Club dinner revealed by the Financial Times, the 22-year old parliamentary researcher in our office raised his head and said “What? Is that a real thing?”

I too would have assumed we were talking about a Mad Men episode. In the past four years I’ve worked on different projects with Labour in the City, the Young Fabians and City institutions forensically, and I believed exhaustively, examining challenges to achieving equality for women in finance. Yet I had no idea male-only dinners existed.

A few years ago, I hosted a panel session on achieving parity for women in finance. A collection of senior women and an FT journalist (Madison Marriage, who I’m proud to count as a former colleague from our early days in financial journalism and whose impressive work has kicked off this conversation) talked about remedies to improve diversity – flexible working, blind CV review, mentoring programmes, quotas.

This week’s events have made me question if it is time to think less about policy interventions and instead take the battle to the front line. You can have all the initiatives in the world, but if the man at the top’s idea of a party is where he pays to attend and women are paid to attend, those policies cannot have more than a superficial impact. I have not seen the guest list, but I would be curious to know whether any of the senior attendees at that dinner came from companies which had signed the Women in Finance Charter.

Bringing about cultural change is much, much harder but it has numbers on its side. I’m optimistic that the majority of men I work with would have no interest in turning up at an all-male dinner where women are used as decoration (indeed, in politics at least, even speaking on all-male panel is now unacceptable to most). This is not out of concern for their reputation, it is because they would find a dinner like that boorish, boring and outdated. They would no more go in for a piece of such naff, seventies entertainment than they would order a bottle of Blue Nun.

Herein lies the problem: the anti-feminist, anti-progress brigade have been allowed the monopoly on calling things ‘fun’, painting the rest of us who can see a misogynistic and god-awful evening for what it is as in the grip of some moral panic. People of different genders who work in the City are more than capable of socializing without subjugating each other. No-one wants to see the City become a puritanical shrine where personalities are checked at the door. The next generation in financial services is more than capable of having social lives with our colleagues that don’t preclude us from respecting each other and buying in to the overall idea that women should be better represented.

The majority of us who work in the City must speak up so our voices are louder than this hard rump of outliers. The reaction to today’s FT article, now the most read article in the history of the newspaper’s website, shows it is high time for the old guard to step aside.

Sophia Morrell

Chair, Labour in the City