Last weekend, I went to see the Oscar nominated film The Post, which tells the story of how the New York Times and Washington Post published the Pentagon Papers.
At the heart of the story is the Post’s editor Ben Bradlee and owner and publisher Katharine Graham.
Graham had to deal with all sorts of boorish, patriarchal behaviour, yet she steered the paper successfully through the most important period in its history - including its integral role uncovering the Watergate scandal, the subject of All the President’s Men. She also became the first female Fortune 500 CEO and had she been alive today and based in the UK, her professional status may well have entitled her to be a member of the Presidents Club. However, she was a she.
Sadly, more than 40 years after the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, women are still being professionally side-lined and treated in an outdated, unacceptable way. In October, I wrote a comment asking ‘How many Weinsteins are there in this industry?’, which we followed up with an investigation, The Ugly Truth. Little did I think that three months later we would be asking that same uncomfortable question again, courtesy of the FT’s explosive revelations this week about the ‘men-only’ Presidents Club’s dinner at The Dorchester.
I initially balked at the juxtaposition of the guest list and string of unattributed offences ranging from groping to someone exposing himself, thinking this was unfairly tarring everyone who had ever been associated with the event with the same brush. Surely some were there primarily for the charity or the networking.
However, the more I spoke to people, the more I realised that while there is no way you could infer that the 39 men ‘provisionally identified’ as from the property industry were guilty of offences of any sort, you could infer that they knowingly attended an event involving some distinctly unsavoury behaviour, and that is simply not acceptable in this day and age.
What on earth were you thinking fellas? Whether it was down to arrogance, defiance or simply being out of touch, did you really think that a men-only event featuring hostesses and a brochure that had to stipulate that sexual harassment was unacceptable was going to fly past the radar without detection? Didn’t anyone have the wherewithal to think that, in the wake of ‘Weinstein-gate’, it might be worth toning things down a bit, or even, perish the thought, opening the doors to senior business women?
The sad thing is that this doesn’t just potentially tarnish the reputations of those who were there; it also potentially tarnishes that of every man in the industry, which is now being painted in some quarters as one of the last bastions of sexual impropriety and worse.
It is such a shame when significant, if belated, strides have been made by the industry to embrace diversity, as we have reported in our ongoing Open Plan campaign, and steps are also finally being taken to stamp out outdated, inappropriate behaviour.
As a mixed-race, female editor, I am pretty sensitive to this sort of thing, and I can genuinely say that I don’t recognise the sordid picture being painted in some parts of the national press at the moment – it certainly doesn’t reflect what I have seen. But regardless of whether the bad behaviour at the Presidents Club dinner has been overstated or not, do not delude yourselves that this storm is going to pass quickly. People are baying for their pound of property flesh.
The message is clear: if there ever was a time and a place for such a men-only gathering, that time has passed. Fortunately, I suspect few property folk – men or women – will be shedding tears over the demise of such an anachronistic organisation. My hope is that it also marks the beginning of the end of the behaviour associated with it. A chill wind will be blowing through people’s Mipim plans at the moment.