“Lady Judge” sounds like a female heroine character from comic book series. She even looks like one – her trademark high-collared immaculately white Victorian style blouse under the tailored black suit. Her blonde hair neatly pinned up. At the same time very feminine and incredible capable – one senses her determination – her undeniable steely strength. The minute I heard of her, I have been fascinated by the brilliant Lady Barbara Thomas Judge, CBE.
A one-time chair of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, her current interests span energy and infrastructure as well as pensions. This Queen B for Business hit the headlines this week in what some would imagine is a surprising move – and one showing hugely positive faith in the future of tech start-ups in the UK. Judge is swapping her position as Pension Protection Fund Chair for another kind of Chair – as the head of 2-month-old UK based start-up, hibob. Thrilled Ronni Zehavi, co-founder and CEO of hibob, says: “Lady Barbara’s track-record in supporting British SMEs and the pension industry is second to none.”
“Small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of our economy,” said Lady Judge. “Yet the daily pressure they face to remain compliant and retain their staff is huge.”
Interestingly, Judge was working as a part-time computer programmer at University in Pennsylvania around 1966. Her influential and well-respected mother, Marcia Singer, worked as associate dean of the New York Institute of Technology. Judge sees her mother as the number one inspiration to the young Barbara Sue Singer. “She… taught women in the 1950s and 1960s that they should work because they have a brain, and that they should earn their own money because money brings independence. She taught me to get back on the horse if I fell off.”
Women are scarce in the lofty boardrooms that Lady Judge has made her territory, and her mission is to encourage women in business to succeed. One way she does this is by making policy to place at least one other woman on the same board, and ideally at least three of them.
On CNN she told Ananpour, “One woman is an oddity, two is ok – but at three you’re not “women”, rather it’s just “people”, and once you’re just people the dynamic changes.” Have a look at this interview with Amanpour on CNN in 2015 – where Lady Judge’s determination to bring more women to the boardroom is made clear:
Judge has even suggested that business be forced to use quotas (even though she doesn’t agree with quotas, generally) to top up female representation in business boards. “Women are great multi-taskers and very smart. They bring diversity to the board table.”
She strongly advocates that studying science and mathematics is the way forward for women. “A woman can boost her prospects by studying maths or accountancy. If a young woman studies maths, she will earn a third more than if she did not. I studied history and believe I have been playing catch up my whole life.”
In an interview in 2015 with Director Magazine, she said that her aim is to “…die at my desk”.
Well, let’s hope that won’t happen for a very long time!
Heather Greig (These views are entirely my own.)