The Evolution of Women in the Business World

Dealing with lean periods as a freelancer

Every year US-based business magazine Fortune publishes its list of the 500 largest corporations. As part of its 2020 analysis, Fortune recorded just 37 of the top 500 companies were led by female CEOs. While this figure sounds low, compared to the two women CEOs in the 1998 Fortune 500, the increase has been heralded as a record high.

We take a look back over some of the key milestones in the evolution of women in business.

1870 – with the introduction of the Married Women’s Property Act, married women were legally allowed to keep their own earnings. Ten years later, the University of London became the very first British university to award women degrees.

1850 to 1911 – according to researchers at Cambridge University, women owned almost 30% percent of all small to medium-sized businesses in Victorian Britain.

1919 – the introduction of the Sex Disqualification Act meant that women could take up careers such as lawyers, accountants, vets and civil servants, professions previously only open to men.

1922 – US beauty company Elizabeth Arden, set up by a former nurse of the same name, expanded to Paris, becoming one of the world’s first global brands established by a woman.

The Second World War years – with many men overseas fighting for their country, increasing numbers of women entered the workplace to fill the void. For many, this was the chance to try a career and learn new skills, leading to an increase in the number of women venturing into the world of business and enterprise. One such female entrepreneur was New Yorker Estee Lauder, founder of the multi-billion-dollar beauty empire.

1970 – the Equal Pay Act was introduced in the UK, designed to prevent employment discrimination between men and women. Three years later, women were allowed to work on the London Stock Exchange for the first time.

1983 – the Equal Pay Act was amended to include equal pay for work of equal value – which meant women were to be paid the same as men for work considered to be of the same worth.

1997 – American-born Marjorie Scardino became the very first female CEO of a FTSE 100 company, the UK-based publishing company Pearson. In 2013, Marjorie also became the first female director to join the board of Twitter.

2001 – the first woman to take up the role, Dame Clara Hedwig Frances Furse became the CEO of the London Stock Exchange, until 2009, ranking in the world’s top 20 most powerful women in business.

From 2018 – all UK companies employing more than 250 people have to publish their gender pay gap – the percentage difference between the average hourly earnings for men and women – in April each year. The gender pay gap for full-time employees currently stands at 8.9%.

2020 – just five of the top 100 FTSE company CEOs are women, but the percentage of female board representation is growing. Currently standing at 33%, predictions based on the current growth rate indicates male/female equality in the boardroom by 2029.

For more insight into who runs the world’s biggest companies today, read BusinessFibre’s new infographic report – Women in Business.

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