11 March 2016
Historic Slough Society embraces equality by welcoming female members
In the week that celebrates inspiring women across the globe, employment law partner, Jo Davis, marks a victory for equality and diversity as she accepted an invitation to be the first lady committee member of the Salt Hill Society since 1783.
Originally formed over 230 years ago to protect land against damage, theft or trespass in the days of highwayman, until last year the Salt Hill Society had only accepted male members to its Committee, which each year hosts an annual dinner to commemorate its founding.
"It came as a big surprise to me when I attended my first dinner many years ago to discover I was unwittingly the only female there – it certainly prompted a few raised eyebrows!", said Jo, who was invited to join her male colleagues from B P Collins for the evening.
"In today's society, I was surprised to discover a local community group still excluded women from their membership.
"When the Equality Act became law in 2010, it was ironic that I was then asked to advise the Society on the legal standing of its men only tradition. As I act for clients facing discrimination in the workplace, it was important to me to propose a change for the better.
"As such, while it was possible that the Society could continue to exclude women, I suggested that they may want to modernise their rules," said Jo.
Its current Chairman, Paul Sherriff, welcomed the expansion of its membership to women, saying: "We have felt for some time that men in professional firms found it difficult to invite guests when their female colleagues were being excluded."
Jo's unexpected appearance at its annual dinner ultimately encouraged the committee to rethink its outdated membership rules and has now "moved into the 21st century" said Paul.
"Based on a ballot with the members in 2015, the overwhelming majority favoured for ladies joining the membership. We therefore asked Jo to be our first lady member onto the Committee, which meets in Burnham four times a year to discuss the annual celebrations."
This year's Salt Hill Society dinner was held at the Marriott Hotel in Langley on Thursday 10 March and welcomed many female guests. Guest speaker was Chief Constable Sara Thornton CBE, chair of the National Police Chiefs' Council and former Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police. Sara was the first women guest speaker in the history of the Society.
Paul confirms that there are now two women members of the Salt Hill Society committee and they are looking to increase that number over the next few years.