From equal pay to the vote: 20 landmark moments for women in business

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Sarah Biddlecombe

There’s no doubt that women in business can be a powerful force, but it’s always nice to hear just how powerful.

New research released by NatWest today shows that female entrepreneurs alone were responsible for a massive £3.5billion contribution to the UK economy in 2015, with the proportion of women starting a business nearly doubling from 3.7% in 2009 to 7.1% in 2012.

And while there is still a long way to go before female entrepreneurs can claim equal footing with their male counterparts, especially with the UK’s gender pay gap still stuck at an appalling 18%, opportunities for women in business have changed dramatically over the last 100 years.

Here, charts some of the landmark moments, from gaining the right to vote to receiving statutory maternity pay.

Simply scroll through to start.

  • 1914

    The first International Women’s Day took place in London on 8 March 1914, with a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women's suffrage.

    Emmeline Pankhurst, pictured, was arrested at a similar march two months later.

  • 1918

    British women were given the right to vote under the 1918 Representation of the People Act. However, it only applied to those over 30 who owned property.

  • 1919

    Nancy Astor became the first woman to sit as a member of Parliament in the House of Commons, where she worked to recruit more women into jobs with the civil service, police force and the House of Lords.

    She is pictured here on her campaign trail.

  • 1928

    Women were finally given the same voting rights as men under the Equal Franchise Act of 1928, meaning those over 21 were eligible to vote.

    Suffragettes are pictured here campaigning for the vote in 1910.

  • World War II (1939-1945)

    World War II propelled women into the workforce, with 90% of single women and 80% of married women working in either factories or on the land.

    Pictured here are six of the first women to serve in the Air Transport Auxiliary Service in 1940.

  • 1967

    The contraceptive pill becomes available in the UK, giving women who wish to focus on their career the opportunity to delay having children.

  • 1968

    Women at the Ford car factory in Dagenham strike over equal pay, almost stopping production at all Ford UK plants. Their protest led to the passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970.

  • 1970

    “Status ought not to be measured by a woman’s ability to attract and snare a man”: The Female Eunuch, a feminist tome by Germaine Greer, is published in London and becomes an international bestseller.

  • 1975

    Cleaning women celebrate equal pay day at Kensington Town Hall in January 1975, when the Equal Pay Act finally came into effect.

  • 1975

    The Employment Protection Act introduces statutory maternity provision and makes it illegal for employers to fire a woman simply because she is pregnant.

  • 1976

    Dame Anita Roddick launches The Body Shop to support herself and her two daughters. By 2006 the business was valued at £652 million.

  • 1980

    Women can apply for a loan or credit in their own names, rather than just their husbands.

  • 1986

    The Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Act makes it legal for women to work night shifts in factories. It also allows women to legally retire at the same age as men. 

  • 1987

    Jacqueline Gold becomes the CEO of Ann Summers, transforming it into a multi-million pound business with an annual turnover of more than £150 million.

  • 1988

    Julie Hayward, who works as a canteen cook at a shipyard in Liverpool, becomes the first woman to win a case under the amended Equal Pay Act.

  • 1990

    Independent taxation for women is introduced, meaning married women can be taxed separately from their husbands.

  • 1997

    Marjorie Scardino becomes the UK’s first female FTSE CEO, appointed as CEO of Pearson.

  • 1997

    At only 27, Karren Brady becomes the youngest Managing Director of a PLC in the UK when she floats her business, Birmingham City FC, on the London stock market.

  • 2008

    For the first time, more women than men set up businesses in the UK.

  • 2014

    Shared parental leave is introduced, giving a mother the right to transfer periods of leave to a father.


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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Features Editor at Stylist

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