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Black Hackney councillors: City Hall security guard at Women's Day event asked if we were cleaners

PUBLISHED: 12:38 15 March 2017 | UPDATED: 14:28 15 March 2017

L to R: Sophie Conway, Carole Williams and Sade Etti with colleagues at the meeting.

L to R: Sophie Conway, Carole Williams and Sade Etti with colleagues at the meeting.

Archant

Three black Hackney councillors at an International Women's Day event for ethnic minorities were asked by a City Hall security guard if they were there to clean.

Cllr Carole Williams. Picture: Gary ManhineCllr Carole Williams. Picture: Gary Manhine

Cabinet member Cllr Carole Williams told the Gazette the “incredibly inappropriate joke” showed minority women “are not considered to be a part of the society we live in”.

Employment chief Cllr Williams, deputy speaker Cllr Sade Etti and Cllr Sophie Conway had been invited to the bash at City Hall on Friday evening.

“We got to the door and two security guards were there,” Cllr Williams explained. “We said we were there for the event and one of them asked us if we were there to clean.

“He said it with a straight face, like when someone is trying to be a little bit funny. He was trying to make a joke but it was an incredibly inappropriate joke.

Sophie Conway won 75 per cent of the Hackney Central vote to get elected last year.Sophie Conway won 75 per cent of the Hackney Central vote to get elected last year.

“He looked shocked and horrified as it came out of his mouth. He knew he’d made a miscalculation with what he said, and looked like he wished he could take the words back, but it was too late.

“None of us responded, we just turned to the other security guard.”

Cllr Williams said Cllr Etti later had words with the man, who “tried to feign ignorance”. City Hall is investigating the incident, but Cllr Williams said she did not want the worker to be sacked.

“We think what he said was serious but we don’t want him to lose his job,” she continued. “He’s a symptom of what’s going on in wider society. This is how society sees women and the role of women and black women and the value they attach to particular jobs.

Sade Etti is a former speaker of Hackney.Sade Etti is a former speaker of Hackney.

“It’s a cause for much wider soul-searching.

“It shows we are not considered to be a part of the society we live in. We have a long way to go.

“I keep saying this, but we know these things happen. We know that this is how society feels and thinks and we have been relegated to particular positions. But we’re always shocked when it actually happens. We expect it, but when it happens it feels like we have been sideswiped.

“We’ve made so much progression as a country and society and then you have rude awakenings.

“We were really shocked it happened at an International Women’s Day event. I like to think they’d be a bit more aware about what we were there for. It was an event celebrating women and all of our achievements – specifically for black and minority ethnic (BME) women.”

She added: “Hackney Council is very diverse. Nearly half of the Labour group are women. Phil [Glanville, mayor] has an incredibly diverse cabinet – four [of nine] are women, and three out of those are ethnic minority women. But our experience in the town hall is not always reflected at City Hall. [...] It’s something for them to reflect on.”

Four members of City Hall’s Labour group are women, three of whom are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

A spokesman for the Greater London Authority said: “We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind and we take complaints of this nature extremely seriously.

“We are currently investigating this matter and will of course take action if appropriate.”

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