FTSE 100 female exec lost her job due to her “dictatorial” manner rather than her gender

Jessica Carpani
FTSE 100 female exec, lost her job due to her “dictatorial” manner rather than her gender 

A FTSE 100 female executive, who claimed she had been sacked for failing to join in with conversations about football, lost her job due to her “dictatorial” manner, a tribunal has ruled.  

Adrienne Liebenberg - who earned £200,000 a year - was let go from her position due to her “dictatorial” and “haughty” manner including boasting about her big house and infinity swimming pool, the tribunal had heard.

Ms Liebenberg had claimed that she was the victim of sexism after she was referred to as “little lady”, “girlie” and winked at by male colleagues.

The 46 year old sued the blue chip firm DS Smith for sex discrimination after being fired from her job as Commercial Director.

But the panel has now ruled against her, concluding that while there was an “unacceptable” lack of diversity at the packaging firm, she lost her job due to her poor performance rather than her sex.

In a statement read out at the tribunal in March, Ms Liebenberg had claimed business decisions were often taken over "boozy dinners" with a "gang" of senior male employees, whose practice consisted of "bonding, drink, and football".

Ms Liebenberg added that she found it "difficult" to "join in" with these events, because she felt "alienated by the focus on drinking, and talking about football, and staying up late."

But bosses told an employment tribunal she had been dismissed because her “high class attitude” meant she was unable to collaborate with staff at the international packaging company.

The hearing in central London was told that Ms Liebenberg - who had previously worked as a senior executive at BP and Castrol - had been hired on lucrative terms by the Brussels-based packaging division of DS Smith in March 2017.

The firm were so keen to hire her they offered her a signing on fee of £100,000 and shares worth £200,000.

By the summer, however, doubts about her ability to work in a team began to surface.

In July of that year, division chief executive Stefano Rossi had begun to receive complaints from colleagues that she was telling them what to do rather than working collaboratively.

"Mr Rossi also felt on the basis of what he had heard that (she) was adopting a haughty approach to her junior staff," the tribunal heard. "She had made reference over dinner to her large property and an infinity pool."

He later described her management style as "dictatorial" and criticised her tendency to blame others for failures as well as her inability to work within her budget.

In September 2018, Ms Liebenberg was interviewed as part of an internal project to examine diversity at the firm.

The tribunal heard that she complained of “very sexist views” at the company that stopped women advancing their careers.

"There was a benevolent sexism, wrapped in a paternalistic approach, examples of which were being called 'girlie' or 'little lady'," she told the interviewers.

She also cited inappropriate comments such as "she's a good girl but you wouldn't want her on top of you", a remark the tribunal concluded had been made by a non native English speaker who had not intended any sexual innuendo.

In November of that year Ms Liebenberg was offered a settlement package to leave the company. Refusing to accept that she was being sacked for failing to change her management style, she accused the company of sexism and sued the firm for sex discrimination.

However, the panel has now dismissed  her claims and concluded that she had been sacked for failing to become more of a team player.

They said: "We have not found that Mr Rossi's complaints about (her) leadership style and not working collaboratively with the management team related to her not bonding with them over dinners because she did not drink or discuss football.

"We have found that his concerns were about how she worked with (senior colleagues) and the others in the management team, apportioning blame when things went wrong rather than working together to resolve the problem, not recognising and working within...budget constraints."

Miles Roberts, Group Chief Executive of DS Smith said: “We fought this case because we believed that the allegations of discrimination cut across everything we stand for and everything we believe the culture at DS Smith to be.

“While we feel vindicated by the dismissal of these claims, we recognise there is more we can do and we will continue to raise our standards of inclusion, ensuring more opportunity of development and growth for everyone who works within DS Smith.”