Female business leaders Carolyn Fairbairn and Jayne-Anne Gadhia slam men-only Presidents Club event

Catherine Neilan
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"If even half of what’s been written about this event is true, it is deplorable" (Source: Getty)

Some of the UK's most senior female business leaders have called for the City to "do better" after details of a men-only charity event went public.

An FT investigation into the annual Presidents Club fundraiser found that female hostesses were forced to wear skimpy clothes and encouraged to drink alcohol, before being subjected to groping and in some cases being asked if they were prostitutes. Women told reporters they were frightened by the event, for which they had been told to sign a non-disclosure agreement - although they were allegedly not given enough time to read the document.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: "If even half of what’s been written about this event is true, it is deplorable. We want our young women to feel confident and respected in all walks of life. We can and must do better than this."

Jayne-Anne Gadhia, chief executive of Virgin Money, added: "And we wonder why there are so few women in senior roles in the City. We need men and women to sort this out. Now."

The event was attended by 360 men, including recently-appointed children and families minister Nadhim Zawahi, who reportedly "felt uncomfortable" and left early.

Despite facing calls for him to be sacked, education minister Anne Milton defended her colleague, before Number 10 confirmed he would be staying put.

"I think it is probably safe to say that Mr Zahawi will not be attending a similar event in the future," a spokesman said this afternoon. "He himself probably regrets the decision to go."

However David Meller, one of the joint chairmen of the Presidents Club Charity Dinner, has been forced out of his role as a director of the Department of Education and as chair of the apprenticeships delivery board.

Meanwhile women and equalities chair Maria Miller called for the government to consider tightening legislation to deal with the issues.

She told the Guardian: "British business needs to take a long hard look at itself. How seriously is business taking equality at work if they are still using men only events for entertainment?

“If business leaders are simply paying lip service to equality issues then perhaps it’s time the government gives the Equality Act some real teeth?”

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