This is an ongoing project to celebrate a fuller and richer picture of Britain’s past by telling the stories of pioneering business women, many of whom are now forgotten. You can read more about what inspired this project here.
Women in BusinessEmbed from Getty Images
Welcome to the FT-She 100.
Many women born in the reign of Queen Victoria (so between 1837 and 1901) ran their own businesses or played a key role in large enterprises. Most of them started working before some women got the vote in 1918. Barely any of them are names we recognise today. This project aims to share the stories of 100 women, creating a more complete picture of women in commerce in Britain from the 1870s onwards, the sectors they worked in and the impact they had, from inspiring the Cenotaph to inventing the catwalk show.
Women in SocietyEmbed from Getty Images
Systemic factors affecting women at work
Legal restrictions, workplace policies, power structures, access to accommodation, access to further education and social norms all influenced the working environment for women in Britain and their ability to support themselves and their families a century ago. The impact of these policies and attitudes can still be felt today. What were the barriers? How did women organise themselves to overcome them? Where were unexpected alliances formed? And why has so much of this history been forgotten?
Why this matters
- The contribution of women is under-represented in Britain’s historical narrative, in text books, imagery and public spaces. Nationally, statues of men outnumber women 16:1 and that is when you include Queen Victoria. A recent comprehensive review of monuments in London revealed that named women are outnumbered by animals by 2:1.
- The role of women in business is particularly poorly represented, with the commercial aspect of well-known women’s lives under-played. There is only one blue plaque in London for a woman classified as working in business and commerce. And she is French. Want to guess who it is? (The answer is at the bottom).
- If you read the biographies of men from this period who were allies, mentors and champions of women, their activism on behalf of women is rarely part of the narrative. Their stories are the poorer for it.
- The history of women and work is still felt today when we consider that:
- Only 86 women make it onto the first rung of the leadership ladder for every 100 men
- We still have only nine women running FTSE 100 companies (updated May 2022)
- The majority of board positions in FTSE-100 companies held by women are non-executive roles
- Only 6% of business support professionals and 11% of registered nurses in the UK are male
- We still have a gender pay gap, with women paid 90p for every £1 that men earn, even in jobs where women are in the majority.
Looking back and understanding more about why women did or did not succeed in the past can help us find better solutions for the future.
If you are interested, you can:
Share the stories you like. The more visible these women become, the more likely it is they will get the attention they deserve in documentaries, museum displays, text books, public spaces and corporate histories.
Start your own research. Who are the women who contributed to your sector or business? Are they getting the credit they deserved? What were your great-grandmother or great-aunt getting up to? If you dig, you will find your own bits of gold. And if there is someone you think should be featured here, let me know.
Sign up to hear more. There are lots of fascinating women to meet and many unexpected connections to discover. Eventually there will be more than 100 stories so sign up below for the monthly newsletter .
And if you are still reading, the answer to the blue plaque question is Marie Tussaud.