How women marched in to the stock market bustle

If any men at the London Stock Exchange still objected to women being admitted to the revered institution when it merged with 11 regional competitors in November 1972, the late Queen Elizabeth II soon put them in their place. Her Majesty went off-piste when delivering the after-dinner speech at the celebration of the merger and the opening of its new headquarters.

These regional bodies were smaller but, in one crucial way, strides ahead of the capital – in that several already admitted women as members.

Whether this new, larger institution would too had not yet been confirmed. The Queen noted this and, straying off topic, said: ‘I cannot help wondering whether the historians will think it more notable that this remarkable unity was accomplished, or that on that very same day you opened your doors to lady members.’

This cannily timed intervention gave female financiers a much-needed boost in recognition and four months later – 50 years ago today – six women strode on to Europe’s busiest trading pit for the very first time.

On March 26, 1973, the City was a very different place, populated mainly by men in pinstripe suits with furled umbrellas and bowler hats. Electronic calculators did not exist and trades were conducted through hearty shouts on the open outcry floor.

Pioneer: Anthea Gaukroger was one of the first six women to join the London Stock Exchange, circled left 

Women were there too – though mostly as secretaries or typists.

But even those who were through-and-through financiers had until that point been kept out of the Square Mile’s upper echelons by the men-only membership system.

Although they could become stockbrokers and manage clients’ money, without being members they could not reach the top of the career ladder and become a partner at a brokerage.

The rules of the stock exchange, the beating heart of the City, did not explicitly bar women. But in the past, each time one applied to become a member they had been voted down by existing members.

From March 26, 1973, those who passed the rigorous entrance tests could walk in with heads held high.

Culturally, though, many men were still not ready for equality on the trading floor. What if female members wore short skirts, distracted men or used feminine guile to execute better trades?

One tenacious aspiring floor member was Muriel Bailey, also known as Muriel Wood, who pointed out that when the UK’s regional exchanges merged there would be a two-tier system for women if the LSE did not admit them too.

In 1973, a total of 14 women were invited to join the 170-year-old gentlemen’s club, among them Anthea Gaukroger, 81, and Hilary Pearson, 77, who remain firm friends to this day. Gaukroger, who lives in Clapham, South West London, took the membership exams in 1972 ‘even though I had no prospect of becoming a member at that stage.

‘My colleagues at work thought it would be useful experience and improve my professional standing,’ she says, adding that she then managed to get in ‘by default’ in 1973 when women were admitted, as she was already qualified.

But her experience was far from the misogynistic picture many paint of that time. She says: ‘There was a very conservative view in those days that finance and investment were a male domain. The idea of women even wanting to be members was strange to many, but once it had happened, as is the case with so many things, what had been inconceivable became a normal thing. There was no hostility – just mild amazement that any woman would want to become a member.’

She had always been interested in finance and was working at Sheppards and Chase when she was admitted as an LSE member.

Hustle and bustle: In 1973, the City was a very different place, populated mainly by men in pinstripe suits with furled umbrellas and bowler hats

Hustle and bustle: In 1973, the City was a very different place, populated mainly by men in pinstripe suits with furled umbrellas and bowler hats

Pearson, who also worked at Sheppards, had always been a go-getter, securing her first job in finance by answering an advert on the front of The Times seeking male applicants – though they hired her anyway.

Being a member, she insists, didn’t make the ‘slightest bit of difference’ to what they did day to day.

Gaukroger retired at the end of 2000 after spending decades as an analyst – with her career spanning an array of the stock market’s peaks and troughs, as well as the 1980s deregulation heyday, known as the ‘Big Bang’. It was at this time that individual membership of the LSE was scrapped altogether.

The old system had allowed women – though many still contend far too late – to enter the elite, male-dominated top tier of finance.

Decades later, membership may no longer be required to reach the top, but women are still vastly under-represented and paid less than their male counterparts.

They also face more hurdles at different points in their career than men – though changes to maternity policies announced in the recent Budget may make it easier for professional women to keep working once they have children.

Progress has been made – but there is still further to go.

We will carry on the work of these City pioneers 

 Julia Hoggett, CEO of the London Stock Exchange

Incredible feeling: Julia Hoggett

Incredible feeling: Julia Hoggett

It is an incredible feeling to mark the 50-year anniversary of women being admitted to the Stock Exchange.

The City has undergone paradigm shifts since 1973 and the financial services industry is more diverse than ever.

But it still irks me to this day that the LSE was not actually required to accept the positive case for women to be members, but rather it was given little choice when it merged with 11 others which had already invited them into the fold.

As the chief executive of the London Stock Exchange, I am fully aware of the need to continue the work started by the pioneering women we are honouring today to improve the participation and enfranchisement of women within financial services – both as people working in the industry and, just as importantly, as people receiving financial services.

As I’ve said before, we are truly standing on the shoulders of giants and we have a duty to pass the baton on to the next generation.

Whilst the stories of misogyny and laddishness have declined, they have not gone altogether. We are also still severely lacking in female role models in the industry. The latest data from the [Treasury-backed] Women in Finance Charter showed that average female representation in senior management was only 35 per cent. Whilst this has improved in recent years, more needs to be done; we can’t be complacent.

I must admit, I hate making the ‘business case’ for diversity and inclusion. I think we’re at the stage where the discussion should no longer be about why it’s important to have adequate representation of more than 50 per cent of the population in the City. We should instead be focusing our attention on what we actually need to change in order to make a difference for women.

If I have to make a business case however, I would make one simple point: diversity and inclusion is about giving everyone in the workplace an equal opportunity to thrive.

Setting up any industry to only allow a specific proportion of that industry to thrive is, simply put, rubbish resource management.

We conducted a study with the Centre for Economics and Business Research which found there has been a near three-fold growth in Gross Value Added [the value that producers have added to goods and services] to the UK economy by women in finance over the past 26 years.

This has contributed to a £1.12 trillion ‘gender diversity dividend’ to the UK economy since 1997 – by the incredible work of innovative, dynamic and dedicated women across the UK finance sector.

Interestingly, the growth is explained by an increase in women’s ability to participate and, as a result, their wages and productivity – leading to a higher value added per worker.

This should make every politician working to solve the UK’s productivity puzzle sit up and take note.

But it also illustrates how much value we were giving up by not including women sooner.