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Mind the Integrity Gap

The furore about inappropriate behaviour at the Presidents Club fundraiser raises many questions - the most obvious of which is why, in the wake of the Weinstein scandal, the rise of the #MeToo campaign and the emerging conversation about sexual misconduct, some of the most powerful men in UK business felt they could continue to get away with it. The fundraising dinner outed this week by Financial Times journalists who had hostessed there has taken place annually for 33 years, founded in the eighties and perpetuating anachronistic social attitudes. Surely, at some point in the planning stage for this year's event, somebody must have considered the context and questioned whether some adjustment to the format might be appropriate? Apparently not - or perhaps, if they did, they were bullied into submission.

Even the event's fundraising mission seems cynical, given the apparent lack of any kind of relationship between it and the charities it benefited - a fig leaf of respectability applied to justify a night of testosterone-fuelled excess that could be charged to the expense account. It represents the worst kind of corporate philanthropy, a point of view clearly shared by the charities that have decided to return its donation. It's alarming to think that the leaders of some of our most powerful institutions considered it appropriate to invite to such an event those they wished to influence or befriend.

To those who choose to run their businesses responsibly, who aspire to high standards of professional conduct and integrity, the Presidents Club is a sobering reminder that there are still many large and powerful organisations which, at best, only pay lip service to those concepts. Whose leaders revert to type when they think nobody is looking. Where the culture is based on saying one thing publicly and then doing something different behind closed doors. My favourite definition of integrity is "doing the right thing even when nobody is watching" - on that basis, the Presidents Club exposes a massive integrity gap at the very top of UK business. It remains to be seen whether that will become a catalyst for change.