Women haven’t always had an easy time historically, with limited rights and treatement as second class citizens plaguing the female of the species for countless generations. Slightly undermining stereotypes of women endure, with jokes like ‘stay in the kitchen’ and ‘lie back and think of England’ harking back to an earlier time before women were treated as equals.
World War I, heralded a marked change in attitudes towards women; in this time, women entered the workforce, filling the roles left vacant by the young men who’d gone off to fight. The newly empowered females made their voices heard and their talents known, and in the UK in 1918 women were finally granted the right to vote. This was followed swiftly by the US in 1920, but it wasn’t until the 40s and 50s that women’s right to vote was recognized in many Asian countries.
Now, some of the most powerful CEOs, authors and even self-made millionaires are women. Certain patriarchal prejudices still endure though, as evidenced by the notable gender wage gap, and the dearth of women in managerial and political roles. So how far, exactly, has the UK – one of the first leading international nations to recognize women’s right to vote – actually come today?
We’ve collated information on the career trajectories of the the top five most powerful women in the UK – according to 2013’s round up of most powerful women by the oh-so-British BBC Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’. These are women who have truly thrown off the prejudices of generations past to become some of the most powerful industry leaders in some of the most influential industries – in one of the world’s strongest nations.
5. Elisabeth Murdoch: Media
One of the most powerful women in the UK is the scion of a media mogul and a member of one of the richest families in Britain. Elisabeth Murdoch is the daughter of media tycoon, Rupert Murdoch and Scottish author/journalist Anna Murdoch, as well as granddaughter of globally known philanthropist, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch (her namesake). Considering her father’s $13 billion net worth and wide array of success, it is easy to see where Murdoch acquired her passion for business – and her over $300 million fortune.
After graduating from Vassar College in New York, Elisabeth began her career as manager of program acquisitions at her father’s Los Angeles cable television service, FX Networks. In September 1994, with a $35 million loan from her father and her then husband and fellow graduate, Elkin Kwesi Pianim, she purchased cable stations KSBW and KSBY from NBC. Eighteen months later, the couple had sold the stations for $12 million. Though her father’s Murdoch News Corporations experienced money loss at the hands of one of her projects, she also brought the company back to prosperity through her canny business deals.
Murdoch continued her career as a TV and film producer in London, where she founded production company Shine Limited in 2001. Shine Lt. has supplied programming to various international broadcasters, including the BBC, Channel 4 and HBO. In 2011, Murdoch sold her company to Murdoch News Corporations but she remains as chairman of Shine Lt and also holds a position on the Board of Directors of the UK Film Council. All this makes Elisabeth Murdoch one of the most powerful women in media in Britain, if not the world.
4. Baroness Hale of Richmond: Law
Law hasn’t always been the most welcoming sector for women, but Baroness Hale of Richmond is without doubt one of the top success stories. Baroness Hale, born Brenda, was born and raised in Yorkshire. She studied Law at the University of Manchester and graduated top of her class. Holding down a part-time job as a barrister, it took her 18 years to become a Professor of Law. Baroness Hale is the first woman and youngest person to ever be appointed to the Law Commission and at the age of 44 became a Queen’s Counsel.
Her judicial career was mostly under the Family Division. In 1994, she became a judge in the Family Division of the High Court of Justice. With that appointment came the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Five years later, she became the second woman, after Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, to be appointed to the Court of Appeal, as well as simultaneously entering the Privy Council. Her most recent success was being appointed Deputy President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in June of 2013. Hale has spent about 10 years re-defining the face of family law and has been massively successful, and is a pioneering woman in her field. Hale’s dearth of female compatriots in court indicates the law sector in the UK is still far from equitable.
3. Ana Botìn: Business
On to the British business sector where we find our third powerful woman, Ana Botìn. Ana Patricia Botín-Sanz de Sautuola O’Shea (phew!) is one of the daughters of Spanish billionaire Emilio Botìn and Spanish noblewoman, Paloma O’Shea. Upon deciding to study abroad, she came to the USA and studied Economics and Bryn Mawr College, and then earned her Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School. Ana worked at the JP Morgan banking institution for seven years before returning to Spain and working for the Santander Bank, one of the world’s largest banks. In 2010, she became the CEO of Britain’s branch of Santander, replacing her predecessor António Horta Osório. Recently, securing her huge success in business, she became the director at the Coca-Cola Company.
2. RT Hon Theresa May MP – Politics
Our penultimate woman, just shy of Ms. Most Powerful, is politician The Right and Honorable Theresa May. She was born in Sussex to a clergyman father and after being educated in various private schools she gained an honours degree from the University of Oxford.
She would then spend the next 6 years working at the Bank of England as a financial consultant and senior advisor. May began her political career in 1986 when she was elected chairperson of Education in the London Borough of Merton. She was later elected the Conservative MP for Maidenhead, taking advantage of her new status in Parliament to becoming a spokesperson for schools, the disabled and women. In 2002, May became the first female chairman of the Conservative party.
8 year later, on May 12th 2010, May became Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality, making her only the fourth woman to ever hold one of the Great Offices of State. Along with all of her political work, she’s been recognized for her activism around the cause of women’s rights: In 2006, May was nominated as one of the Fawcett Society’s Inspiring Women.
1. Queen Elizabeth II: Royalty
Considering her long, prestigious and, let’s not forget, royal lineage, it’s no surprise that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is the most powerful woman in the UK. The Head of State was born in London to George VI, and was home-schooled her whole life. She entered the public eye during World War II, while serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. At the tender age of 21, Elizabeth II married Prince Philp of Greece and Denmark. On the 6th of February 1952, at age 26, Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth. As Head of the Commonwealth she know reigns over seven independent Commonwealth countries, including Canada and Australia.
At 87 years old, Queen Elizabeth II has reigned over several changes. Recently, she made a state visit to the Republic of Ireland – the first of its kind in 100 years – and has visited and received the Pope. She has witness constitutions go through major changes, including the patriation of the Canadian constitution. She has witnessed the joyous marriages and births of her children and grandchildren, as well as the sorrows of the murder of her husband’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten, and the death of her daughter-in-law Diana. In her 61 year reign, the Queen’s philanthropic work has also been admirable; she’s the sponsor of over 600 charities.
Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention the other big female player in the royal family, and a new addition to the fold; Kate Middleton. The Queen accepted Kate into the British royal family despite her ‘humble’ roots – she was an upper-middle-class darling – when she married Prince William. Duchess Kate the second most powerful woman in the royal family, and the wife of the future King of England.
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