50 Years Since Women Trailblazers Joined London Stock Exchange

When Susan Shaw finished her first day on the floor of the London Stock Exchange in March 1973, a newspaper photographer wanted to take her picture. He was coming from a job at London Zoo.

(Bloomberg) — When Susan Shaw finished her first day on the floor of the London Stock Exchange in March 1973, a newspaper photographer wanted to take her picture. He was coming from a job at London Zoo. 

For some at the time, allowing women to join the members’ club formed in 1801 at the heart of the City of London was a strange spectacle — and an unwelcome one. When women left school, career options tended to be secretarial work, nursing or university, recalls Shaw, who was then 37.

The London Stock Exchange itself did not want women to join, with members voting against it several times. It only happened because the London exchange merged with regional ones, where women were already allowed to take part in the buying and selling of company shares. “We got in by the back door,” Shaw says. There were just 12 in that first group admited fifty years ago this Sunday.

Following a battle that had been fought with rising intensity for a couple of decades, there was trepidation on the first day. Shaw dressed in black and white, like the men, and went to the floor early with a male colleague. Despite not wanting to be noticed, “word got round. There were welcomes, and kisses and handshakes. It was really very warming.”

Also there on the first day was Anthea Gaukroger. A graduate of University College London with a degree in French literature and language, Gaukroger was working in research at stockbroker Sheppards & Chase.

“It did feel like quite a moment,” recalls Gaukroger, who was 31 at the time. “My family and friends were extremely proud.” Others might have been “more traditionally minded,” but her application went smoothly.

Gaukroger stepped on the “hallowed floor” with another of the trailblazers, Hilary Pearson, or Hilary Root as she was then. It was ironic, Gaukroger recalls, that since she worked in research and Root was in portfolio management, neither actually needed to be in the place where shares were traded. But it was nevertheless a “breakthrough,” she says. 

Lorna Tilbian recalls the impact Gaukroger had. Tilbian, who went on to be a highly rated media analyst and one of the founders of Numis Securities in the early 2000s, started her career selling ads at Campaign magazine before going to Sheppards in 1984. There were quite a few women in the research department, in which Gaukroger had a strong influence. “She taught young graduates how to do research,” Tilbian remembers.

The exchange in the eighties was still not a straightforward place for women. As part of the training to become a member, applicants had to be “blue buttons” — or unauthorized clerks on the exchange floor. “The boys used to ask the girls to ask the jobbers for a price and size of companies that did not exist,” Tilbian remembers. “That only lasted about a week.”

Many changes were to follow, including an increase in women in the City as well as the dramatic growth and internationalization of London as a financial center because of 1986’s Big Bang reforms. But representation and pay remain big issues today. 

Women now take up a third of seats on the average listed company’s executive committee, according to the latest Women in Finance Charter. Female finance workers’ pay rose from £16,000 in 1997 to £50,000 in 2022, while men’s wages rose from £33,500 to £80,000 over the same period, according to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. 

Now a woman runs the exchange: Julia Hoggett, who will lead an event on Monday celebrating the 1973 milestone and examining ways to boost women’s participation further. 

Hoggett has spoken to some of the LSE’s original women, who do not actually feel like trailblazers. “But I really hope after the celebrations this week, they do,” she says. “Their actions have allowed the rest of us to follow and I would like to thank each and every one of them.”

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