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.
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 (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 (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.
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 (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.