The inspirational timeline highlights the major milestones for working women throughout history

Beginning in Tudor London in 1479, it shows how women made their way to the top – and today own almost a third of small businesses in Britain

Michelle Obama has been named the number one professional female role model
Michelle Obama has been named the number one professional female role model

This inspirational chronicle charts the key milestones in the female workplace – from Katherine Fenkyll taking over her husband’s drapery business in 1479 to the admission of women to the London Stock Exchange in 1973.

Today, almost a third of small businesses in the UK are female-owned – but the timeline below shows just how far we’ve all come.

The insights, compiled to mark International Women’s Day, show how much has changed since the 15th century, when the widowed Katherine Fenkyll took over her husband’s drapery business at Tudor London.

Other notable early milestones include the launch of the first women’s magazine, The Female Spectator, edited by Eliza Haywood, and The Sex Discrimination Removal Act, allowing women to practice law.

The 20th century brought great changes, including the first female bank manager, Minister of Transport and train driver, and Stella Brummel became the first ‘Businesswoman of the Year’ in 1974.

Also in the 70s, International Women’s Day was formalized (1977), with the 45th annual event falling on March 8 of that year, with the theme ‘Break the Bias’.

The timeline was commissioned by Funding Circle and curated by historian and broadcaster Professor Kate Williams.

Modern milestones include the increase of women on FTSE boards by 50% in five years in 2021, and in the same year the gender pay gap narrowed to 15.4%.

Lisa Jacobs, CEO of Funding Circle, said: “International Women’s Day reminds us of the importance of supporting women’s rights and celebrating their achievements – and that includes the many female entrepreneurs in the UK.

“Every day these entrepreneurs make a significant contribution to the UK economy – creating jobs and fueling economic growth. We are proud to support them at Funding Circle.”

A study of 2,000 women also found that 63% believe International Women’s Day is important and one-eighth actively seek to support women-owned businesses.

Increased maternity pay (32%), flexible working hours (43%) and more women in managerial positions (45%) are some of the reasons women believe the world of work has improved for them over the past decade.

But there is still a long way to go – with higher wages, equal job opportunities and less sexism, the biggest advances they wish for in the future.

When looking for or applying for a job, women look for flexible working (62%), development opportunities (47%) and strong diversity and inclusion policies (32%).

Almost a quarter of women knew they were paid less than a man in the same position – and as a result, 36% of them interviewed their employer, while 13% even quit their job.

In 1929, for the first time, women took part in an election known as the “flapper election”.


Davis/Current Press Agency/Getty Images)

People interviewed via OnePoll admitted they faced obstacles at work, including the need to take time off for childcare or menstrual and menopausal issues, and the lack of female role models at their company.

One in six has also felt gender stereotyped, and 15% of women have avoided applying for a job because it sounded like a ‘male role’.

According to women, Michelle Obama is considered the top role model in the world of work, followed by Emmeline Pankhurst and Deborah Meaden.

Other notable names from history who have influenced women in work include Ada Lovelace, the first female computer programmer, wax modeler Madame Tussaud, and Agnes Marshall, the “Ice Cream Queen”.

Kate Williams said: “The timeline shows how far women have come in the workforce thanks to legislation like the Sex Discrimination Removal Act and the Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Act.

“There are so many milestones that need to be celebrated and remarkable women who may not get enough recognition.

“This International Women’s Day is a celebration of overcoming prejudice and recognizing that we still need to overcome inequality, eliminate stereotypes and reject discrimination.”


  1. 1479 – Katherine Fenkyll takes over her husband’s cloth shop at Tudor London after his death.
  2. 1745 – Eliza Haywood publishes the very first women’s magazine, The Female Spectator.
  3. 1790 – Sarah Baker, actress and manager of her own theater company, founds Canterbury’s first purpose-built theatre. She founds ten theaters in all and dies, leaving behind a business and fortune worth over a million pounds.
  4. 1835 – Marie Tussaud establishes a permanent home for her hugely popular traveling waxwork exhibition at The Baker Street Bazaar, later known as the famous Madame Tussauds.
  5. 1843 – Ada Lovelace publishes an algorithm for a computer to calculate numbers, making her the first computer programmer.
  6. 1851 – Eliza Tinsley takes over her husband’s nail salon in the West Midlands. Within 20 years it employs over 4000 people.
  7. 1855 – Mary Seacole opens her first British hotel in Crimea, providing comfortable quarters for the sick and wounded, originally there as a nurse.
  8. 1882 – Married Woman’s Property Act: Married women may now keep wages, inheritance and other funds for themselves, rather than being owned by their husbands.
  9. 1883 – Agnes Marshall, the Victorian Ice Cream Queen, opens her cookery school and shop on Mortimer Street, London.
  10. 1892 – Elsie Inglis became a doctor after becoming the first woman to graduate from Edinburgh University – she established a women’s hospital specifically for the poor.
  11. 1892 – Amy Dillwyn took over her father’s mine at Llansamlet, near Swansea, and turned it around, saving 300 jobs and repaying her father’s sizeable debt.
  12. 1919 – The Sex Discrimination Removal Act gives women access to bookkeeping and the legal profession.
  13. 1928 – All women over 18 are granted the right to vote, after women over 30 (with property) were granted the right to vote in 1918.
  14. 1929 – First election where all women can vote, known as the “flapper election”.
  15. 1929 – Margaret Bondfield becomes Britain’s first woman Cabinet Secretary – the former trade unionist becomes Secretary of State for Labour.
  16. 1958 – Hilda Harding becomes Britain’s first female bank manager.
  17. 1965 – Barbara Castle becomes the first woman Minister for Transport.
  18. 1968 – Machinists at Ford’s Dagenham plant go on strike, leading to the Equal Pay Act 1970.
  19. 1969 – Chemist Dorothy Hodgkin uncovers the molecular structure of insulin. She had already been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 – as the only British scientist to receive the prize.
  20. 1973 – Women are allowed to participate in the London Stock Exchange, stepping onto the trading floor for the first time ever.
  21. 1973 – Stella Brummel is voted 1st Woman Entrepreneur of the Year – she is Managing Director of the UK’s largest manufacturer of concrete mixing equipment.
  22. 1975 – The Sex Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination against women in employment, education and training.
  23. 1975 – The UN declared 1975 the International Year of Women.
  24. 1976 – Dame Anita Roddick opens the first Body Shop store in Brighton – by 1991 there were 700 stores.
  25. 1977 – International Women’s Day is declared an annual event by the UN General Assembly.
  26. 1978 – Karen Harrison becomes the UK’s first female train driver.
  27. 1983 – Lady Mary Donaldson becomes the first female Mayor of London.
  28. 1986 – The Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Act allows women to retire at the same age as men.
  29. 1987 – Diane Abbott becomes the first black female MP.
  30. 1990 – Independent taxation of women is introduced, the first time married women are taxed separately from their husbands.
  31. 1996 – Kanya King rescheduled her house and founded the MOBO Awards (Music of Black Origin).
  32. 1997 – 120 women win seats in general election.
  33. 2001 – Dame Clara Furse becomes the first female CEO of the London Stock Exchange.
  34. 2009 – Carol Ann Duffy becomes the first Poet Laureate in nearly 400 years by men.
  35. 2014 – Liv Garfield becomes CEO of Severn Trent Water, at 38 the youngest female CEO of a FTSE 100 company.
  36. 2017 – Dame Emma Walmsley becomes CEO of Glaxo Smith Kline, the first female CEO of a major pharmaceutical company.
  37. 2017 – Almost 20% of UK SMEs are owned by women (1.2 million businesses).
  38. 2020 – Over 30% of small businesses in the UK are female owned.
  39. 2020 – Sharon White becomes the first black chair of John Lewis, having been the first black chair of Ofcom.
  40. 2021 – The gender pay gap between men and women narrowed to 15.4% and women on FTSE boards increased by 50% in five years.


  1. MichelleObama
  2. Emmeline Pankhurst
  3. Deborah Meaden
  4. Anita Roddick
  5. Karen Brady
  6. Maria Berry
  7. Ruth Bader-Ginsburg
  8. Malala Yousafzai
  9. Eleanor Roosevelt
  10. Oprah Winfrey

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