The National Institute of Directors (IoD) appointed its first female chairman (sic), Lady Barbara Judge in 2015.
Lady Judge had barely been at the IoD for two years before she suggested hanging portraits of “inspirational and aspirational women”, to support the initiative for more women on boards.
She asked for portraits from the National Portrait Gallery and Royal Academy, but was turned down by both. The National Portrait Gallery said it did not have enough ‘appropriate’ portraits of women. A spokesperson said, ”The location suggested to display them is large and would require full length or very large portraits. These are precisely the works which by their nature and the history of the representation of women are reasonably few in number in our collections.”
The Royal Academy said they had restrictions on the loan of their works. A spokesperson for the academy said, “We recognise Lady Judge’s desire to represent aspirational women.”
“However, in common with other institutions, it is the Royal Academy’s policy not to lend works of art from its collection to be displayed in spaces where food and drinks are consumed.”
These institutions should be hanging their heads in shame. Here are a few crazy suggestions for them to increase the visibility of women. Photographic headshots such as those displayed at the Royal Society have increased its representation of women considerably. The Society are serious about getting more women and more people into science and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematic subjects.
Or how about a callout, up and down the land, to galleries and stately homes to see what they have? Such as the famous Spanish dancer, Josefa de Oliva, known as Pepita, grandmother to poet and author, Vita Sackville West. There would also be several portraits of Sackville-West around.
Another good woman to start with would be Lady Mary Wortley, currently being written out of the history books. As wife of the ambassador to Turkey, she introduced the smallpox innoculation to Western medicine in 1721, roughly 50 years before Edward Jenner, who developed his vaccine in 1796. Yet it is he who gets the credit and most recently too, by a doctor on the BBC.
Another invisible woman.
But persistence is needed. The IoD should reconsider the space being used, and the portrait’s presentation. Members could also be involved in suggesting women who have inspired them, and ways of making them visible.
After all if the Royal Society can do it, so can the Institute of Directors.