After days of vicious reporting and closed-door meetings, one of the UK’s most prestigious business groups issued a statement Friday morning confirming that its very first female president, Lady Barbara Judge, had been suspended.
The drama that culminated in the Institute of Directors’ (IoD) announcement began earlier in the week, when several news outlets reported that the 71-year-old New York-raised businesswoman was the subject an investigation into accusations that she used racist and sexist slurs. and harassed colleagues.
The IoD, which likes to present itself as a bastion of best practice in corporate governance, later confirmed that it had commissioned a full investigation into the matter, led by law firm Hill Dickinson.
Lady Judge said she voluntarily decided to step aside temporarily, to contest the claims.
On Friday, the IoD board – after receiving a summary of the investigation – said it had made the decision to suspend Lady Judge “pending further investigation into the issues raised and the process.”
What emerges from the report makes it easy to understand how the decision was made. The investigation reportedly revealed that Lady Judge had suggested that black people “can get aggressive” while making derogatory remarks about a pregnant colleague.
While undoubtedly dealing a major blow to the reputation of Pall Mall-based IoD, it also represents a setback for the business community, both in the City of London and beyond.
Lady Judge, often almost royal in appearance, had become a champion of women’s rights and board diversity, and was frequently portrayed as a role model for women hoping to break through an ever-firmly domed glass ceiling. above a world dominated by men.
When she took office as president of IoD three years ago, only 5,000 of the organization’s 34,000 members were women, according to the Financial Time.
Born in the small village of Saddle Rock on the north shore of Long Island, her entrepreneurial spirit and ambition to succeed probably date back to her childhood and adolescence. Her father owned a small business while her mother, Marcia Singer, initiated the creation of a then pioneering course called “The World of Work for Women” at the New York Institute of Technology.
In 1969, she graduated from New York University Law School with highest honors and became editor-in-chief of New York University Law Journal, preparing her to become the youngest person and only the second woman to become a member of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington DC.
There, she helped convince the Tokyo Stock Exchange to open its doors to foreign members.
The frenetic pace of his career progression showed no sign of slowing down over the next three decades. A move to Hong Kong led her to become the first female director of British investment bank Samuel Montagu & Co. Later, she was appointed senior vice president of Bankers Trust International Banking in New York.
A position as Executive Director of Rupert Murdoch’s News International followed, and her CV was further enriched when she founded the investment firm Private Equity Investor plc.
In 2004, she was appointed Chairman of the British Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), prompting the Daily mail to ask if she could indeed be “Britain’s most connected woman”.
“Lady Judge, a lawyer, has more jobs than meets the eye,” the newspaper wrote in 2007. “Name a board and she’ll be there; find a charity and it will be associated with it.
In 2010, Lady Judge received a CBE as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honors for service to the nuclear and financial service industries. In the same year, she was named in the BBC Radio 4 show Woman’s hour List of the 100 most powerful women. It also appears in similar lists compiled by Management today as well as by Debrett’s, a coaching company that promotes itself as an authority on etiquette and honest behavior.
Prior to joining IoD, she was President of the Pension Protection Fund and Vice-President of the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s new Nuclear Reform Oversight Committee, following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The independent hailed her as “Japan’s nuclear savior”.
On Friday, Mike Taylor, chief executive of leadership consultancy Accelerating Experience, said the allegations now tainting Lady Judge and the IoD, and the disarray in which the organization’s leadership has been plunged, “would be comical, if it was not so tragic ”.
“While this behavior may be exceptional and limited to an individual’s actions, it has the potential to cause lasting damage to both the IoD and to businesses that expect it to lead by example. best practices and strong governance. ,” he added.
It is understood that Lady Judge clashed with Stephen Martin, who became the Managing Director of IoD last year. According to multiple reports, her detractors for a time questioned her true commitment to diversity issues – the very issues she seemed to be championing so loudly.
“She always talked about these things. But she did not necessarily live as she spoke ”, the Financial Time quoted an anonymous former colleague.
Others seem to rule out the possibility that the allegations that have already sullied his name are true. Some of her ways, said another who knew her, might just be seen as a bit “anachronistic.”
Lady Judge’s tenure was due to expire in May and she was not due to run again, but even when she moves on and the IoD regroups, Mr Taylor says we can learn a bigger lesson from this episode.
“Unacceptable behavior cannot be left unchecked and must be called out appropriately, starting at the top,” he said.
Adding that if the leaders of an organization “are not models of good behavior individually or collectively, the loss of value is a direct result”.
And what does this mean in the longer term for the stronghold of corporate governance in particular? “The Institute of Directors is about to find out. “