International Women’s Day: Top 40 Business Milestones

An inspiring timeline shows the top milestones in the female work environment – from Katherine Fenkyll taking over her husband’s drapery business in 1479 to women being allowed to join the London Stock Exchange in 1973.
Today, almost a third of small businesses in the UK are female-owned with the timeline below showing just how far we have come. The insights, compiled to celebrate International Women’s Day, show how much has changed since the 15th century, when widowed Katherine Fenkyll took over her husband’s drapery business in Tudor London.
Other notable early milestones include the launch of the first women’s magazine ‘The Female Spectator’ published by Eliza Haywood, and The Sex Discrimination Removal Act allowing women to practise law. The twentieth century saw big changes including the first female bank manager, transport minister and train driver, to Stella Brummel becoming the first ‘businesswoman of the year’ in 1974.
It was also in the 70s that International Women’s Day was formalised (1977), which takes place on 8th March this year with the theme ‘Break the Bias’. Says Lisa Jacobs, CEO at Funding Circle:

“International Women’s Day reminds us how important it is to support women’s rights and celebrate their achievements.
“This includes the UK’s many female business owners.
“Every day, these entrepreneurs are making a significant contribution to the UK economy – creating jobs and driving economic growth. We’re proud to support them at Funding Circle.”
A study of 2,000 women also found 63 per cent believe International Women’s Day is important and an eighth actively look to support female-owned companies.
Flexible working hours (43 per cent), more women holding senior positions (45 per cent) and increased maternity benefits (32 per cent) are among the ways women believe the working world has improved for them in the past 10 years.
But there is still a way to go, with increased pay, equal job opportunities and less sexism the top advances they’d like to see in the future.
When searching or applying for a job, women look for flexible working (62 per cent), development opportunities (47 per cent) and strong policies for diversity and inclusion (32 per cent).
Almost a quarter of women have known they were getting paid less than a male in the same role with 36 per cent of them questioning their employer and 13 per cent even quitting their job.
Those surveyed, via OnePoll, admitted they faced obstacles at work, including having to take time off for childcare or menstrual and menopausal symptoms and having a lack of female role models in their company.
A sixth have also felt gender-stereotyped and 15 per cent of women have avoided applying for a job because it sounded like a ‘male role’.


1.   1479 – Katherine Fenkyll takes over her husband’s drapery business, following his death, in Tudor London1745 – Eliza Haywood publishes the first ever women’s magazine, The Female spectator.
2.   1790 – Sarah Baker, actress and CEO of her own theatre troupe, sets up Canterbury’s first purpose-built theatre, she establishes ten theatres in all and dies leaving a business and assets worth over a million pounds.
3.   1835 – Marie Tussaud establishes a permanent home for her wildly popular travelling wax work show at ‘The Baker Street Bazaar’, later to be known as the famous ‘Madame Tussauds’.
4.   1843 – Ada Lovelace publishes an algorithm for a computer to run numbers, making her the first computer programmer.
5.   1851 – Eliza Tinsley takes over her husband’s nail making business in the West Midlands. Within 20 years it is employing over 4000 workers.
6.   1855 – Mary Seacole opens her first British Hotel in the Crimea, comfortable quarters for the sick and wounded, originally there as a nurse.
7.   1882 – Married Women’s Property Act, married women can now keep wages, inherited property and other money themselves, as opposed to it being under the ownership of their husbands.
8.   1883 – Agnes Marshall, the Victorian Ice Cream Queen, sets up her cookery school and shop in Mortimer Street, London.
9.   1892 – Elsie Inglis became a doctor after being the first woman to graduate from Edinburgh University, she went on to establish a women’s hospital especially for the poor.
10.   1892 – Amy Dillwyn took over her father’s mine in Llansamlet, near Swansea, and turned it around, saving 300 jobs and repaying her father’s significant debts.
11.   1919 – The Sex Discrimination Removal Act allows women access to accountancy and to practice law.
12.   1928 – All women over 18 gain the right to vote, after women over 30 (with property) gained the vote in 1918.
13.   1929 – First election in which all women can vote, known as the ‘Flapper Election’.
14.   1929 – Margaret Bondfield becomes the first British Cabinet Minister – the former trade unionist becomes Minister of Labour.
15.   1958 – Hilda Harding becomes Britain’s first bank manager.
16.   1965 – Barbara Castle becomes the first female Transport Minister.
17.   1968 – Machinists at Ford’s Dagenham Plant go on strike, leading to the Equal Pay Act in 1970.
18.   1969 – Chemist Dorothy Hodgkin uncovers the molecular structure of insulin, she had been awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964 for Chemistry – the only British female scientist to win the Prize.
19.   1973 – Women are allowed to join the London Stock Exchange and thus allowed on the floor for the first time ever.
20.   1973 – Stella Brummel is voted the first businesswomen of the year, she is managing director of the UK’s largest manufacturer of concrete mixing equipment.
21.   1975 – The Sex Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discriminate against women in work, education and training.
22.   1975 – The UN declared 1975 the International Women’s Year.
23.   1976 – Dame Anita Roddick opens the first Body Shop store in Brighton, by 1991 there were 700 branches.
24.   1977 – International Women’s Day is formalised as an annual event by the UN General Assembly.
25.   1978 – Karen Harrison becomes the UK’s first female train driver.
26.   1983 – Lady Mary Donaldson becomes the first women Mayor of London.
27.   1986 – The Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Act enables women to retire at the same age as men.
28.   1987 – Diane Abbott becomes the first black female MP.
29.   1990 – Independent taxation for women is introduced, the first time married women are taxed separately from their husbands.
30.   1996 – Kanya King remortgaged her house and founds the MOBO awards (Music of Black Origin).
31.   1997 – 120 women win seats in the General Election
32.   2001 – Dame Clara Furse becomes the first female chief executive of the London Stock Exchange.
33.   2009 – Carol Ann Duffy becomes the first Poet Laureate after nearly 400 years of men.
34.   2014 – Liv Garfield becomes CEO of Severn Trent Water, the youngest female CEO of a FTSE 100 company at aged 38.
35.   2017 – Dame Emma Walmsley becomes CEO of Glaxo Smith Kline, the first female CEO of a major pharmaceutical company.
36.   2017 – Nearly 20 per cent of UK SMEs are owned by women (1.2 million businesses).
37.   2020 – Over 30 per cent of small businesses in the UK are female-owned.
38.   2020 – Sharon White becomes the first black chair of John Lewis, after being the first black chair of Ofcom.
39.   2021 – Women on FTSE boards increased by 50 per cent in five years.
40.   2021 – The gender pay gap between men and women dropped to 15.4 per cent.


1.   Michelle Obama
2.   Emmeline Pankhurst
3.   Deborah Meaden
4.   Anita Roddick
5.   Karren Brady
6.   Mary Berry
7.   Ruth Bader Ginsburg
8.   Malala Yousafzai
9.   Eleanor Roosevelt
10.  Oprah Winfrey 

Chris Price