Britain’s Inspiring women leaders

Our tribute to inspiring women leaders, and this year's International Women's Day campaign. The campaign is #ChooseToChallenge, a celebration of women's achievements to promote equality in the workplace.


SVC Solutions empowers our employees and clients to thrive in their careers and help them become positive leaders. So we decided to join the celebration by honouring some of the inspiring women leaders. We believe these women have made a difference to modern British history either through leadership or career success.

Florence Nightingale

The first of our inspiring women leaders is Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. Born in Italy in 1820, Florence, instead of living a traditional life, went entirely against it and moved to London. In 1854, Florence put a team together and transferred to Crimea. Florence and her team looked after British soldiers during the Crimea war, which was an exceptional achievement for her career. It was the first time that women were allowed to serve in the army. 

Florence Nightingale

When Florence arrived in Crimea, the hospital conditions were terrible; it was filthy, and there weren't enough beds. Florence worked hard to transform the place and to make sure that the recovering soldiers were comfortable. Due to her quality of care and what she did for others, Florence was welcomed back as a hero and continued improving healthcare worldwide. 

Florence was not only passionate about the quality of care. She was also a social reformer, a statistician and an accomplished writer who published work to spread her medical knowledge. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the British government set out several temporary hospitals called NHS Nightingale.

Photograph by Henry Hering (1814-1893), Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst is another one of our inspiring women leaders. She was a political activist and one of the founding members of the Suffragettes, a movement that started in the early 1900s to fight for women's right to vote in the UK.

Despite not having enough support in its beginnings, the movement became stronger after Emmeline and her daughter Christabel encouraged women to aid the country during the First World War.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline and Christabel urged women to take on duties usually carried out by men, such as industrial production, while their husbands and sons were fighting at the front line. They proved that women were capable of contributing and, therefore, they should have a right to vote. 

Through these actions, they earned much respect, and in 1918, the government changed the law to allow certain women the right to vote - a massive step towards womens' equality rights.

Emmeline was named one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century by Time Magazine, stating that "she shaped an idea of objects for our time" and "shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back".

Photograph: Matzene, Chicago, 1913. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Princess Diana

When it comes to inspiring women leaders, no list would be complete without Diana, Princess of Wales.

Born Diana Frances Spencer in 1961, she was a member of the British royal family. Diana had a deep commitment to charity work and social causes. Initially, Princess Diana concentrated on helping children and youth but became interested in health-related matters such as HIV/AIDS and leprosy. 

Princess Diana

Princess Diana's sincere empathy and kindness for the most vulnerable helped her earn admiration and respect not only from the British public but across the world. Diana became very influential and extended her royal patronage to numerous organisations such as the British Red Cross Youth and the British Lung Foundation and was mainly known for supporting the banning of landmines in Africa. 

Diana helped to bring attention to social causes and challenged public perceptions. Her leadership style was to lead from the heart, caring for people at the centre of everything, becoming the 'People's Princess' and even a style icon.

The Princess of Wales has left a legacy with her son. Prince William holds patronage with over 30 charitable and military organisations, including the Tusk Trust, Centrepoint, and London's Air Ambulance Charity. Prince Harry also supports numerous causes and has founded organisations like Sentable– a charity that helps orphans in Lesotho – and the Invictus Games Foundation.

Photograph © copyrightJohn Mathew Smith &

Anita Roddick

Dame Anita Lucia Roddick, born in 1943, was best known as the founder of The Body Shop, a company that produces and sells natural beauty products. Anita was a businesswoman, human rights activist and environmental campaigner that has influenced the world through promoting ethical consumerism. 

Clearly Anita was one of our most impressive of inspiring women leaders. She was involved in environmental and social campaigns such as Green Peace and The Big Issue. After founding The Body Shop, she made sure the company was one of the first to prohibit animal testing and promote fair trade with developing countries.The first Body Shop opened in 1976, and by 1991 the business had grown to 700 branches, an achievement for which they won the World Vision Award for Development Initiative.

By 2006 Anita had 1980 stores, at which point L'Oreal purchased the business for £652 million. The sale to L'Oréal caused a media stir. Although L'Oréal ceased animal testing in 1989, it had begun selling products in China in 1997. In China, the law required animal testing on cosmetics before sale to the public. 

Anita Roddick said in an interview that she saw herself as a Trojan horse. The Body Shop had been able to influence the public values and expectations to the new owners' level of questions about their non-ethical practices.

Photo Source and Author License

Helen Sharman

Helen Sharman, born in 1953, is known as the first British astronaut. Originally from Sheffield, she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry at the University of Sheffield and a PhD degree at the University of London.

Not long after leaving university, Helen responded to a radio advertisement calling for people who wanted to become the first British space explorers. Helen's application was selected above over 13,000 applicants for the mission live on ITV. 

Dr Helen Sharman

The programme was called Project JunoBefore flying, Helen spent 18 months on intensive flight training, and in 1989 she became the first British cosmonaut. In 1991 at age 27, she became the first British person and the first European woman in space on the Soviet space station Mir. After her mission, she dedicated herself to communicating science in public and published a children's book 'The Space Place'.

Helen is clearly in our list of inspiring women leaders and has received much recognition. She was awarded the bronze and gold Medal of the Royal Aero Club, appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire, and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, amongst many others. 

Author: Anne-Katrin Purkiss

Photo Source and License

Stella Rimington

Dame Stella Rimington is a former Director-General of MI5, from 1992 to 1996. Stella was the first woman to become Director-General of MI5 and the first DG to pose for cameras in the public eye.

She was open about MI5 activities to improve the openness of the service and increase public transparency. Stella had studied English at the University of Edinburgh and later studied archive administration at the University of Liverpool.

Stella started working at MI5 during her husband's appointment as a representative of the British Security Service in India. She worked her way up for over 25 years, working in counter-espionage, counter-subversion and counter-terrorism until finally promoted as a Director-General in 1992.

Since her retirement, Stella continues to be one of the most inspiring women leaders. She has worked as a non-executive director for companies like M&S and BG Group. She has published her memories and novels based on 'insider' spy fiction, publishing books such as 'Secret Asset' and 'The Geneva Trap'.

Photograph: Andrew Davidson Photo Source and License

Ellen MacArthur

Ellen MacArthur, originally from Derbyshire, is known mainly for two things: She is a successful yachtswoman who broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe.

She is the founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. We recognise her as one of our most inspiring women leaders.

Ellen had her first sailing experience whilst still at school when she saved her dinner money for three years to buy her first boat. 

Ellen MacArthur

Years later, in 1998, she was named "Yachtsman of the Year" in the UK and "Sailing's Young Hope" in France. The 'Asteroid 20043 Ellenmacarthur' is named after her.

After she retired from sailing, Ellen founded the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This charity organisation develops and promotes the concept of a circular economy to accelerate the transition. The foundation works with businesses, education and policymakers, and their funding goes to innovations towards the management of waste plastics. 

The foundation is a founding member of the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy launched on the back of the World Economic Forum. The foundation's vision is "A new economic system that delivers better outcomes for people and the environment. Business models, products, and materials are designed to increase use and reuse, replicating the balance of the natural world, where nothing becomes waste and everything has value.

Increasingly built on renewable energy and materials, a circular economy is distributed, diverse, and inclusive.

Author and Photo Source: Chatham HousePhoto License

How to join International Women's Day?

Celebrated every year with a different topic, visit their website for ideas on how to join. You can also support by donating to charities that help women have more opportunities, such as:

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