International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

Last weekend, while on holiday in London and with half a day to spare before my flight, I thought about the best way to spend my time. I decided to visit the Bank of England. This visit wasn’t just a tick on the tourist list; it made me pause and reflect on the significant progress women have made in the finance sector, particularly within this historic institution. While I won’t give you a museum tour here, I believe everyone should visit to witness first-hand the legacy and evolution it represents, especially concerning gender equality.

The Bank of England, established in 1694, was once a reflection of the societal norms of its time, when the financial sector was predominantly male-dominated. Opportunities for women within the Bank were virtually non-existent, with their roles in society largely limited to domestic settings or minor involvement in family-owned businesses. There’s a mention of Employee Number 242 in the Bank’s records from 16th April 1767, Elizabeth Banning, identified as the only woman working at the Bank at that time, serving as a house cleaner.

However, the turn of the 20th century marked the beginning of societal shifts, fuelled by the women’s movement and the evolving industrial economy. Yet the real transformation occurred with the onset of the First World War. With a significant portion of men called to the front lines, the Bank, like many other institutions, found itself in a staffing crisis. This led to women stepping into the Bank of England for the first time, filling roles considered suitable for their gender, such as secretarial or clerical tasks.

What began as a temporary measure evolved into a permanent change. The wars showcased the capabilities of women, leading to their increased presence and gradual rise to more specialised and senior positions within the Bank.

By the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the Bank was witnessing historic milestones in the Bank: Charlotte Hogg became the first female Chief Operating Officer in 2013, followed by Nemat (Minouche) Shafik as the first female Deputy Governor in 2014. The selection of Jane Austen for the ten-pound note in 2017 was more than a tribute to a beloved literary figure; it was a symbolic acknowledgement of women’s invaluable contributions.

While the UK has made considerable progress, many countries are still navigating their journey, striving to appreciate and value women’s contributions across all sectors of society. Coming from a country where women are often suppressed against their will and forced to adhere to societal norms, I understand this will be a long-term struggle in certain societies.

This journey mirrors the evolution of women’s rights, demonstrating that progress in the workplace isn’t just about breaking glass ceilings, but also about the choices available to women, including the choice to be a homemaker. Advocating for women’s rights means acknowledging the immense contribution this choice makes to society. Empowerment is about supporting women in whatever path they choose, ensuring they are respected and provided with opportunities, whether they aim for the boardroom or focus on the home.

True equality is about freedom of choice without fear of societal judgement. Every woman’s contribution, no matter its nature, is vital to the fabric of our community. This International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the diversity of women’s roles and the ongoing journey towards equality.


The views expressed are those of Thorntons Investments.  The contents of the article are solely for information purposes and are not intended as advice.

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