Friday, 19 July 2013

Muirfield, Whites and the men’s loo!

What do all the above have in common – no prizes – no women allowed! Muirfield can choose not to have women as members - I have a big problem with staging the Open there.  Unsurprisingly I don’t particularly want access to the men’s loo – although my former workplace had unisex loos which seemed to work fine. (All closed stalls in case you were wondering although we did wash our hands at adjoining basins.)

The Reform Club – apparently a haven for Tory boys is now also a haven for Tory girls as well – when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister they were stumped– how could you not admit the Prime Minister as a member?  Women didn’t flock in although I believe there are some now.  Similarly the City Livery Club which had been an all-male bastion was somewhat flummoxed when the late Mary Donaldson was elected as the first woman to be Lord Mayor in 1983 and was forced to change the rules.  As a Liveryman I am entitled to be a member and have been for a while.  If elected we will have our second woman to be Lord Mayor, Fiona Woolf, towards the end of this year – again not a rush, it has taken thirty years.

It is not that I object to single-sex organisations – I could hardly do that as I am on the Board of the UK branch of the International Women’s Forum. One could argue that the origin of many of these networks is to provide a forum for women, particularly in male-dominated workplaces.  Women are woefully underrepresented in many positions of influence from government to company boards and elsewhere in the public sector (see the latest report from the King’s Fund Why aren't there more women leaders in the NHS) but this isn’t the moment for that discussion.

What happens at Whites or any of the other “gentlemen’s” clubs or even male only golf clubs?  Is this is where deals are hatched, appointments are offered – and is it any different from corporate entertainment involving lap dancing or strip clubs?  It keeps women out (and I hope some men!) and that is where my problems start.

An anecdote that proved to be more telling than it first appeared.  I was employed by a start-up in the City in 1981 – a small investment bank.  I was the third employee pre-launch – the others had been identified but not yet handed in their notice.  Two of the directors (to be) worked for the same brokerage.  They came into the office one morning as we were unpacking furniture and Andrew said – “David and I went to the loo this morning and agreed we would both hand in our notice today” he turned to me and said “that’s why women don’t make it in the City as all the important decisions are made in the men’s loo!

Ha Ha – except how many times in subsequent years did a couple of the men excuse themselves for a bathroom break and you knew when they came back that key discussions had taken place.  This wasn’t necessarily to exclude me but if we were on the same team – it did.  A long time ago and I am sure it is all different now..........

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