Three black councillors say they were asked by a City Hall security guard if they were cleaners while attending an International Women’s Day event for ethnic minorities.
Cllr Carole Williams, Cllr Sade Etti and Cllr Sophie Conway, from Hackney Council, were invited to the event organised by London Assembly Member Florence Eshalomi on Friday evening.
Upon arrival at City Hall at about 8pm they were met by two security guards, and say one of them “joked” about whether they were there to clean.
Cllr Williams told the Standard: “We had been invited to this event at City Hall to mark International Women’s Day.
“When we arrived at the door we were greeted by two security guards.
“One asked if we were there for an event or to clean. It was a bit shocking.
“I think it was clear from his face at the time that he thought it was a joke.
“We were really taken aback by it so we didn’t respond to it. I didn’t think that would be productive.
“It is not what you expect in a multi-cultural, diverse, 21st century city like London. It is an indication of the sort of treatment women are still subjected to on a daily basis.”
She added that Cllr Etti later approached the security guard about the incident, who admitted that he made the remark but said he was joking.
Cllr Williams added: “We did speak to him when he came up the stairs and he admitted that he said it and he said it was a joke.
“It is indicative of a wider issue of what people expect women, black women, to do for work.
“We really need to reflect on that. We have clearly got a long way to go.”
City Hall are investigating the incident, but Cllr Conway added she did not want the security guard to be fired as a result of the incident.
However she said the joke “reflects a reality that is problematic”.
She told the Standard: “Initally were really stunned, we didn’t know what to say.
“In this day and age for people make jokes like that reflects a reality that is problematic.
“Still the expectation is that it is more likely that we would see someone like me working in the service industry than as an MP or as an elected representative.
“I’m not massively offended by the joke, I believe he probably was joking, but I don’t think he would have said that to a white man.”
A spokesperson 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.”