Companies are the Architects of Diversity by Lady Barbara Judge, Chairman of the Institute of Directors

Lady Barbara Judge began her career as corporate lawyer in New York in the 1970s, before becoming the youngest-ever Commissioner appointed to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. She went on to work as a merchant banker in Hong Kong, and has subsequently held board positions at companies in the US, Europe and Japan. In the public sector, she has served as Chairman of Atomic Energy Authority and the Pension Protection Fund. In 2015, Lady Judge become the first women to be appointed Chairman of the Institute of Directors.  

Was it always your ambition to lead a company? Why?

I began my career as a lawyer, largely on the advice of my mother. She was an associate dean at the New York Institute of Technology, and taught women to work at a time it was not considered the norm. She has been the guiding influence in my life, and wanted me to channel my early interest in acting into a career, telling me to ‘go act in front of jury’. It was through working as a corporate lawyer in New York, and then sitting on the US Securities and Exchange Commission that I really got a taste for business. I moved into merchant banking, and then on to work in many different sectors from food, to energy, to homeware, because I love being at the forefront of decision-making in a business. Making the big calls, seeing investments pay off and watching a company grow are the most satisfying things I can think of.     

 How many women sit on your board?  Are they executive or non-exec appointments? 

Myself (as chairman), Erica Ingham and Suzy Walton are all non-execs. Louise Gulliver is a managing director at the IoD and a member of ExCo.

Do you actively promote women through the company or do you currently recruit from outside?

It has to be a mixture. The IoD takes professional development for our staff very seriously, and we have just sent all of our managers on three days of training so that they can develop as leaders. We want to make sure there’s a pipeline taking women up from middle levels of management to the executive. All companies, however, need a range of experience, so also hire externally. Ultimately it’s about getting the right person to do the job, irrespective on their backgrounds – so we always look to recruit the best.

 Do you agree that non-executive appointments are a useful first step towards getting more women onto boards?

Getting women on boards is essential to diversity. While we have made much progress over the years – women today make up more than 25% of FTSE 100 Boards – there is still much to be done. I, for one, have been saying for years that it is simply not enough for women to be non-executives, they must become chief executives as well. It is very important to just get women decision-making roles, which have a responsibility for business profit and loss. The Government has listened to these calls and, in the recent launched of the Hampton-Alexander Report, they outlined ways of getting more women into executive positions. While the Government’s efforts are to be commended, ultimately we have to remember that it is only within companies themselves that consistent and far-reaching change can happen. 

Do you regard your board as balanced or still a work in progress?

I believe one woman, or even two, on a board is an exception. However three or more women – a group – can make it the norm. On this basis I am very pleased the IoD has three, but the work is never done, and boards always need to keep an eye on making sure there is enough diversity in senior positions.

Have there been any obstacles internally to achieving this balance?

I think there has been a belief in the importance of gender diversity for a long time at the IoD. After all, women have been welcome to join since it was founded in 1903. That said, I am the first female Chairman and it is a pleasure to say that I have had nothing but support from the IoD in raising the importance of the issue. Being Chairman of the IoD allows me to take the agenda right to the heart of government, and I have had people like Theresa May attend events that I have held for women in business at the IoD.

How beneficial is diversity on your board?  (E.g. debate quality, reducing group think, better decision making)

There is no question that Britain’s boardrooms benefit when there are people from diverse backgrounds around the table. A diverse team produces diverse products and services, and it should be self-evident that is makes no commercial sense to ignore half of the potential talent pool. I am pleased to say that the last stubborn pockets of the business community who still fail to recognize this are shrinking every day.

If you could make any improvements to improve diversity, what would they be? (E.g. better inductions, improve internal pipeline, make the working practices more flexible etc.)

Much of the recent pressures have been placed on the Government to introduce the right measures to encourage businesses to promote women, but speaking frankly, the business community must also do their part. I hope the emphasis placed on transparency in the Hampton-Alexander review will help sharpen minds of the nomination committee and senior executives to make sure there is a steady flow of female talent.

It is one thing to acknowledge the problem, and another to overcome practical barriers holding back women. Company bosses also need to make a conscious effort to provide women with the right training and development to be able pursue their career aspirations and improve the internal pipeline, as well as making working practices more flexible to suit their individual needs.

Why do you think gender imbalance is still an issue across European boards?  (E.g. increased talent pool, better recruitment processes women needing greater confidence, policies to improve working practices to allow more women onto board etc)

Women are now going to university at a higher rate than ever, and this is very exciting. Likewise in the first few years of working, in their twenties, they earn more than their male counterparts. The inequalities seem to appear around the age of thirty this is likely connected to having children and is still the big barrier to seeing more women progress up the career ladder. Different European countries have different approaches to parental leave, but the law and culture are two different things. In the UK, the Government has now enabled mothers and fathers to split the leave, but few men are taking it up. I think companies have a responsibility to publicise the new rights and encourage parents to split the leave a bit more evenly.

Role models are also another significant factor – if there is no one to identify with and no one to ask advice, it can be difficult to see yourself doing that job. That is why women that are in senior positions must do all they can to send the elevator back down – whether it’s through mentoring or simply setting a serious example.

In your experience, what are the main challenges facing any new director when they are first appointed?  How do you overcome them?  

There are many different things to learn, not just about the business, but also about the other board members and how they work. I always make an effort to meet each director individually so we can build a relationship. Understanding each other, and the way they view issues, saves a lot of time at board meetings.


I am the first female Chairman and it is a pleasure to say that I have had nothing but support from the IoD in raising the importance of the issue