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The Groundbreaking Women Who Changed the World of Business Forever

Tuesday 6 February 2018 marks 100 years since women got the vote. With that in mind, we take a look at some of the most groundbreaking women in history – both pre and post-suffrage – that changed business forever.

A visionary computer programmer, a cultural icon changing perceptions of women in work, a formidable campaigner for employment rights – these are just some of the women who have shaped not only the business world, but society and culture at large with their intellect, skills, ethics and entrepreneurial spirit.

 

 

With computers now at the heart of everything we learn and create today, where would modern business be without Ada Lovelace’s early epiphany?

 

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

We have all too belatedly become acquainted with the computer programmer and mathematician who saw the potential of computing long before anyone else. Lovelace realised computers could do more than just crunch numbers and any piece of content – including music, text, pictures, and sounds – could be translated to digital form and manipulated by machine and subsequently wrote the analytical engine program that could ‘act upon things’.

With computers now at the heart of everything we learn and create today, where would modern business be without Lovelace’s early epiphany? The computer programming language Ada, named in her honour, is still used in aviation, health care, transportation, financial, infrastructure, and space industries.

 

 

Mary Tyler Moore can be credited with helping to influence cultural attitudes in US and western societies in the 1960s in the way they viewed women in the workplace.

 

Mary Tyler Moore (1936-2017)

An actor and indeed a businesswoman (she and her husband founded MTM Enterprises which produced the Mary Tyler Moore Show), Mary Tyler Moore can be credited with helping to influence cultural attitudes in US and western societies in the 1960s in the way they viewed women in the workplace.

 

 

The portrayal in the Mary Tyler Moore Show did not conform to stereotypes of the hard-nosed singleton and harried working mother – it showed a supportive spirit and the more realistic challenges faced when building a successful career as a woman.

 

 

Barbara Castle was instrumental in helping to introduce the Equal Pay Act

 

Barbara Castle (1910-2002)

Noted for her failings perhaps more than her successes at the time, the so-called Red Queen was a principle-led politician who campaigned extensively for employment rights and unions.

Her reason for making the list, however, is her role in the introduction of Equal Pay Act, driven by the women of the Ford plant in Dagenham who famously went on strike over the issue. It was the first piece of legislation that enshrined the right to pay equality between women and men – and with the fight for true pay equality still on, it is worth remembering Barbara Castle’s refusal to remain quiet on the issues that mattered to her.

 

 

A trailblazer for black women and men in business, Madam CJ Walker is known as America’s most successful African American.

 

Madam CJ Walker (1867-1919)

A trailblazer for black women and men in business, Madam CJ Walker is known as America’s most successful African American and was speculated to be America’s first female self-made millionaire. She was an early pioneer of the beauty industry creating hair and beauty products specifically designed for black women.

Madame Walker was also a relentless philanthropist and social activist, donating to and working for many civil rights organisations and campaigns. She built and opened up her house as a gathering place for community leaders to encourage young African-Americans to follow their ambitions. The Madam C. J Walker Business and Community Recognition Awards were set up in her honour and are sponsored by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.

 

 

Dame Clara Furse was not only the first female chief executive of the 200-year-old London Stock Exchange but one who ushered in some major reforms.

 

Dame Clara Furse (1957- )

Not only the first female chief executive of the 200-year-old London Stock Exchange but one who ushered in some major reforms. She listed the exchange on its own market, upgraded the technology used, and oversaw the merger which allowed it to diversify into derivatives, fixed income, clearing, and settlement.

The Exchange trebled revenues to £671m and quadrupled adjusted operating profit to £339m under her leadership. She is currently chairman of HSBC UK and non-executive Director of Vodafone Group Plc and Amadeus IT Group.

I am what is known as a fiery redhead. Now, I hate to make this a matter of appearance and go all womanly on you, but there you have it. And me standing up like this is in fact just that redheaded fieriness leaping to the fore. Credence? I will give credence to their cause. My god! Their cause already has credence. It is equal pay. Equal pay is common justice, and if you two weren’t such a pair of egotistical, chauvinistic, bigoted dunderheads, you would realise that. 

Barbara Castle Quote from the 2010 film - Made in Dagenham

Caroline Harriet Haslett was the first secretary of the Women’s Engineering Society and in 1924 she co-founded the Women’s Electrical Association.

 

Caroline Harriet Haslett (1895-1957)

Freeing women from the chains of domesticity through engineering and technology for the home, one woman who carved a path for women in engineering and beyond was Caroline Haslett, who saw the potential of electricity in the home to allow women to seek employment and develop themselves outside of their homemaker status.

She was the first secretary of the Women’s Engineering Society and in 1924 she co-founded the Women’s Electrical Association (which became the Electrical Association for Women (EAW) in 1925).

 

 

Martha Lane Fox became the youngest female member of House of Lords in 2013 serving as a cross-bencher.

 

Martha Lane Fox (1973- )

The founder of Lastminute.com has gone on from the dot-com bubble to become a key influence in major aspects of our digital lives.

She serves on the board of Twitter, has worked as UK government digital inclusion champion and set up new Digital Public Services Unit in the cabinet office, and has since launched GO On Uk with the mission to make the UK most digitally skilled nation in the world. She also became the youngest female member of House of Lords in 2013 serving as a cross-bencher.

 

 

Anna Roddick's Body Shop empire changed the way we view corporate social responsibility.

 

Anita Roddick (1942-2007)

“The business of business should not be about money, it should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed” is a quote from Dame Anita Roddick’s autobiography. Her Body Shop empire changed the way we view corporate social responsibility and the impact that our consumption of beauty and personal care products was having on animals and the environment.

The Body Shop brand, coupled with Anita Roddick’s campaigning brought ethical production into the consumer mainstream, forcing even larger established global brands to respond and adapt.

 

Kayleigh Ziolo is a freelance journalist and writer based in Ireland. Follow her on Twitter @Kayleigh_Ziolo

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