The Government is to review the way non-disclosure agreements are applied following reports of widespread sexual harassment at the Presidents Ball which the Prime Minister has condemned.
Reporters from the Financial Times went undercover at the men-only charity event and described hostesses being groped and abused at the event. They were reportedly told to wear short black outfits with high heels and forced to sign non-disclosure forms [also known as ‘gagging orders’] before the event.
The Ball, which was attended by leading business men and figures such as children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi, has been widely condemned, including by Prime Minister Theresa May. She said: “I was frankly appalled when I read the report of this Presidents Club event. I thought that that sort of attitude of the objectification of women was something that was in the past. Sadly, what that event showed is that there is still a lot more work for us to do.
I will continue to work, as I have done in my time in politics, to a point where we really can say women are respected and accepted and treated as equals.”
Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, who said: “If even half of what’s been written about this event is true, it is deplorable and confirms how far we have still to go to stamp out sexual harassment. We want all women to feel confident and respected in every walk of life. We can and must do better than this.”
The Ball has since been cancelled.
The Prime Minister’s statement came as an Institute for Government report showed nearly a third of all ministers are now women [up from a quarter], with only one department (the Ministry of Defence) having no female minister as compared to five in 2017. In three departments half or more ministers are women (they are in the majority at the Home Office).
The report notes an increase in female ministers of state – from 15% to 27% – and says this is the pool from which the next generation of cabinet ministers are most likely to come. It states that progress in other areas of government has been slower. The percentage of female special advisers declined from 33% to 25% between December 2016 and December 2017, with eight departments having no female special advisers. There are also five select committees on which fewer than 20% of members are female: Transport, Foreign Affairs, Defence, International Development and Science and Technology. However, eight of 24 Select Committees are chaired by women, and overall, women make up a third of Select Committee members.
Meanwhile, a survey of over 1,000 theatre workers by The Stage has found almost a third have experienced sexual harassment at work. Eight per cent claimed to have been sexually assaulted at work. The majority [67%] of those who had experienced sexual harassment or bullying did not report it and with regard to sexual assault in four out of five cases where it was reported no action was taken.