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 and social norms all influenced the working environment for women in Britain and their ability to support themselves and their families a century ago. In some cases their impact can still be felt today. What were they? How did women organise themselves to overcome them? Where were unexpected alliances formed? And why has so much of this history been forgotten?
Why does this matter?
- 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 there as twice as many depicting animals as there are those depicting named women.
- 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).
- Some of the reasons we don’t know about these women and their achievements are also factors in why:
- As of January 2021, we still have only six women running FTSE 100 companies
- Research by McKinsey suggests that only 85 women make it on the first rung of the leadership ladder for every 100 men
- Men are also affected by the lack of attention paid to women’s stories. If you read the biographies of the men in business during this period who were allies, mentors and champions of women, this is rarely part of their story.
- Looking back can help us move forward.
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.