One of the City’s ancient trade guilds that does not accept female members is “tainting” the City of London, according to a group of councillors.
The City of London Corporation has 110 associated Livery companies, which were traditionally trade associations and guilds for different crafts.
The groups now perform a variety of functions, often relating to training and education in their respective fields, but retain a heavy social aspect. They also have voting rights for senior City of London positions, such as Lord Mayor, in what is called the Common Hall.
Included among the 110 groups is the Worshipful Company of Bowyers (long-bow makers) which does not allow women to be members.
The Bowyers have been criticised by a group of City of London councillors and aldermen as being retrograde and discriminatory.
Alderman Tim Hailes and councillor Ed Lord spoke out against the group, both individually repeating the phrase: “It’s 2020, not 1820”, while councillor Anne Fairweather also said the group needed to change its ways.
Hailes added: “Leaving aside the principled inclusion and equality issues for one moment there’s also a constitutional question as members of the Livery have a key role in electing the Sheriffs and Lord Mayor.
“By failing to admit women as members they are therefore arguably also undermining the electoral franchise of Common Hall, the body that makes those elections, and that is a real problem.”
One source on the City of London’s Court of Aldermen told City A.M. it was absurd the group still operated like this, but understood the reasons behind it.
“I think what happens is that the type of people who want to be in an all-male club can find a place where there is an all-male club,” they said.
“Because of this, they have got a waiting list to be a member, while others have problems with membership.
“They can say they’ve got good financial health and it offers the members what they want – to only be around other males.”
The deputy head of the City’s powerful policy and resources committee, Tom Sleigh, derided the Bowyers, but said they were symptomatic of a larger problem among the Liveries.
Female membership across Liveries is very low for some of the biggest guilds in the traditionally male-dominated groups.
“The Bowyers are tainting the City by association, but at least have the merit of being honest about not admitting women, unlike many livery companies which technically do, but in practice are male clubs,” he said.
“The ancient links between the City Corporation and Livery Companies mean that we are at risk of being damned by association.”
A City of London Corporation spokesperson said it aims to be a leader in diversity in the Square Mile.
“That is why we aspire to enhance the diversity of candidates standing for the 2021 election to 30% female and 15% from BAME backgrounds.
“We have also introduced a voluntary Diversity Charter for elected Members to sign up to so they can publicly show commitment and help drive the debate internally on diversity and inclusion.”
The Worshipful Company of Bowyers declined the opportunity to comment.