I think it’s safe to say that we have all been shocked by the revelations about the Presidents Club.
It wasn’t just that most of us had never heard of it, it was the fact that so many attendees were big names from the property industry. Inevitably, some are close contacts of Property Week who have written comment pieces for us, sponsored or participated in our events or advertised in the magazine. Some made our Power 100 list – we were going to interview one of them later that week but he cancelled via his PR at short notice. These are people I held in high professional regard and still do, but as I asked in my blog, ‘All the Presidents men’ (PropertyWeek.com), what were they thinking?
This week, we posed that very question to some of those who were at the Presidents Club dinner. We also spoke to those who declined invitations and one man who had attended in the past and vowed never to return. And we asked senior industry figures – men and women – what they thought the ramifications would be for the industry.
Read our special report in full: Presidents Club fallout – eyes wide shut
Our aim was not to rake over the salacious details again or take the moral high ground and stand in judgement. Equally, we had no intention of being apologists for an industry that, as evidenced from the fact such a men-only club existed, clearly has a problem that is perhaps more entrenched than many of us thought.
What we wanted to do was hear first hand from those in the industry, not those from outside looking angrily in. We hope you agree that it is a fair and balanced article and that it sparks important debate about what happens next, because something needs to happen. Whether the allegations of sexual harassment and bad behaviour have been overstated or not, this storm is not going to blow over quickly.
The first step is for the industry to admit it has a problem. This is not a matter of forming an orderly queue at the confessional and expecting absolution for your sins (whether or not you believe they are more perceived than real). Think of it as more akin to an AA programme, where admitting you have a problem is just the first step in the long journey to recovery. The whole ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour’ code whereby people wouldn’t admit they had seen something untoward if they were being water-boarded at Guantanamo Bay simply won’t cut it anymore.
As for those who maintain there was nothing wrong with the recent Presidents Club event, take your heads out of the sand, open your eyes – and don’t dismiss what women are telling you or how they feel. It is not just disrespectful to the female staff who were there; it is disrespectful to all women, not least your female colleagues.
The next step is up to you, but if you don’t take it, there will be repercussions. This is a scab that the national media will delight in continuing to pick at if the industry does nothing to try and heal itself – something to bear in mind as the industry prepares to descend on Mipim.