Janet McCall sparked a good deal of excitement when she took up her role on the floor of the London Stock Exchange in 1978 as the first female dealer at broker Wedd Durlacher.

“Colleagues say that Janet is dark if not sultry, shapely and single, very promising and when it comes to business: tough,” one press cutting from the time of her appointment noted. “Perhaps she will not spoil the atmosphere after all.” Another article observed that the 22-year-old “pretty brunette” from Essex, who was joining a team of 84 men, did not have “a special boyfriend” in her life at that point.

Wedd Durlacher was consumed by Barclays in 1986. McCall, now Stevens, went on to become a director at UBS. Today, women are represented in senior roles across the City, and language like that is bracing enough to make any modern reader wince.

Beryl Gayler © © Charlie Bibby/FT

Beryl Gayler

Gayler left school at 15, and worked for several years as a telephonist. 
“In the mid 1970s, a Laurence Keen dealing partner invited me to join the dealing team as a Blue Button [trainee dealer] on the Stock Market Trading Floor.

“The first time you walked on to the floor, you thought ‘good grief, I can’t do this’. But after a while, people make jokes and you carry on. The firm was very supportive.

“I retired in 2007. We obviously went up to the office with the Big Bang. That wasn’t nice. We missed the floor.

Gayler during her time working at the LSE

“I remember at the time of my appointment, the dealing partner invited a retired senior partner to lunch, to break the news that the company had employed a woman to trade on the market floor. It was a very big deal in those times, and something I am exceptionally proud to be part of.”

But the LSE believes remembering that time matters. This week it is marking 50 years since women like Stevens were first admitted on to the floor of the exchange that had been the tightly guarded preserve of men for more than 170 years.

“Change has come, but so much more is required,” said Julia Hoggett, LSE chief executive.

The journey for women on to the floor of the exchange on March 26 1973 was not smooth. Ranald Michie, emeritus professor at Durham university and author of The London Stock Exchange: A History published in 1999, said the council of the exchange put the matter to a vote among its members several times before 1973. “The council could see the need for change,” he said. But each time, it was rejected, by a huge margin. “People were inventing all sorts of reasons to stop them coming in,” Michie said.

Lindy Treacy © © Charlie Bibby/FT

Lindy Treacy

Treacy arrived at the LSE in 1979.
Before she landed on the stock exchange floor, Treacy worked at broker Mullins. “Mullins was the government broker. All the men wore top hats, so my first job in the morning was to brush these hats. After I’d been there for a year they had a dealing position, so [I asked to] be considered for that position. They said no because I would look silly in a top hat.

Lindy Treacy, bottom left, on the floor of the exchange © © S&G

“We were a minority, and sadly laddish and misogynistic behaviour was tolerated and almost encouraged. It was a challenging time for those who were simply seeking equality in the workplace.
“I was known on the floor as Lindy Lou. There were other nicknames like Dirty Debbie, Sweaty Betty . . . some of them not repeatable. You had to be thick-skinned and you had to have a sense of humour.”

Women were present in the City, largely as typists or telephonists. But exchange members threw up objections that, by today’s standards, seem bizarre. What if women used their female charms or short skirts to secure better prices? What if they were physically incapable of jostling their way through a crowded trading floor? “One man complained that if his wife came to the viewing gallery and saw him talking to attractive women, he’d be in trouble when he got home,” Michie said.

But pressure for change was becoming unbearable. Before the first world war, London accounted for a third of trading in all securities around the world, including government bonds, Michie said. By the 1960s, much of that international heft had melted away. Both domestic and international listed businesses had often been nationalised. Calls for greater competition were building, and the London market was struggling to justify its fixed trading fees. Moreover, the world was moving on; the resistance to women was starting to look anachronistic.

The breakthrough came when 11 regional British and Irish stock exchanges merged — a step agreed by members in 1972. Exchanges in Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and elsewhere were all folded into London. Several of them, including Aberdeen and Huddersfield, had already accepted women as members since the mid-1960s. “Suddenly you had the prospect of these northern women coming to London and going on the floor, and you couldn’t stop them,” Michie said.

“Women had been trying to force change behind the scenes” for decades, said James Taylor at Lancaster university. But the amalgamation — and successful legal campaigns for professional recognition by women in other industries — helped one aspiring floor member, Muriel Bailey, also known as Muriel Wood, to take a more vocal stance. She pointed out that female membership of some but not all parts of the combined group would create a two-tier system. Even then, Taylor said, “it still took months to face up to reality . . . It was performative misogyny. People were proud of having voted against women joining, it was two fingers up to public opinion.”

Sarah Danes © © Charlie Bibby/FT

Sarah Danes

Danes joined stockbroker Vivian Gray in 1978, initially as an assistant. She became a so-called Blue Button, seeking information on share prices on the stock market floor, a year later.

Danes surrounded by men at the LSE

“It was daunting as there were only a handful of other women on the trading floor, with hundreds of suited men,” she said. “I was petrified. Luckily, I had a very kind dealer, he was very charming. His nickname was the Yorkshire Ripper. It was very male but not masculine as we think of it these days, not like football hooligans. They were always very polite and charming.

Danes, highlighted

“Nobody [outside of work] understood what I was doing. I earned very little money, I had to supplement my income by working behind a bar.”

At the same time, inflation was on the up, and pension fund managers were mindful that if they were to pay out the sums that retirees had been promised, their savings pots would have to look beyond bonds paying fixed rates.

“Investors were looking for something that would hold value in an inflationary environment. Equities provided opportunities,” Michie said. The admission of women on to the trading floor helped them participate in this boom too, putting them in a better position when the so-called Big Bang of market deregulation landed in the 1980s.

Even then, women on the trading floor faced a tough task. “There was never any victory in allowing them in,” said Taylor. “This was not the result of a positive vote. Women were seen as intruders.” Three weeks after women were first allowed in, press reports show that one woman, on her second visit to the floor, was catcalled and verbally abused. “This hasn’t frightened me off,” she said. “I’m simply ignoring it.”

All of the early female traders who spoke to the Financial Times about their experience of the 1970s and 1980s had fond memories of that time, despite their very different treatment to that of male colleagues. One, Sarah Danes, who joined the exchange in 1978 with stockbrokers Vivian Gray, recalls that she was not permitted to wear trousers to work until 1996.

Janet Stevens © © Charlie Bibby/FT

Janet Stevens

“I worked as a trainee dealer, a so-called Blue Button, on the stock exchange floor for Wedd Durlacher. They were one of the biggest jobbers, known as a market maker now, and I was the first woman they employed as a trainee. Market makers were on the podiums making the prices, and I was the first ever in equities. There were only five or six other lady brokers and we all looked out for each other.
“I remember feeling a bit miffed at the time that the press concentrated on what I looked like, because I felt like it was an achievement.

Stevens at work © © Frank Herrmann

“I found most people very supportive, but I remember that you had to prove yourself. You had to be better than the boys.
“In about 1984 I got headhunted and I went to UBS Securities to trade dollar eurobonds, and there again I was the only female trader. Now I am a trustee for the stock exchange veterans charity and I work in further education, helping young people understand what the City is like.”

Women are still a relative rarity in trading roles. “Half a century later, our sector has not fully redressed the structural inequity and imbalances that characterised the experience of women — and barred them from professional growth in our sector,” said Hoggett at the LSE.

Michelle Underwood © © Charlie Bibby/FT

Michelle Underwood

Underwood, then Michelle McAtee, joined stockbroker Mullens in 1978. In 1980, she entered the stock exchange floor while working for Charles Stanley.

The male-dominated trading floor © © Steve Eason/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“It was quite overwhelming, because there were just so many men. There was so much to learn. There was always a sense of urgency, but it was very, very enjoyable.
“It wasn’t well paid … When I first started I had to have a job on the Saturday and the Sunday working in the chemist. You were there to learn. You were expected to pick up people’s dry cleaning, get their sandwiches, all that sort of thing. But it was brilliant.
“Everyone said ‘are you here to find a husband?’ and I’d go ‘no no no’. I met mine on a beach.”

The Financial Conduct Authority, the UK regulator, said it believed “a diverse and inclusive culture results in better judgment and decision-making and encourages innovation”.

“We look forward to an open discussion on how we should use our powers to further diversity and inclusion within financial services, to the mutual benefit of firms and their customers.”

Stacey Parsons © © Charlie Bibby/FT

Stacey Parsons

Parsons was born at the time some of the first women entered the LSE. She is head of fixed-income strategy at Winterflood Securities and has helped to organise events to celebrate the achievements of the first women at the exchange, and of the women in the City who followed in their footsteps.
“[I want to] bring a broader awareness to the fact that women actually only became members of the stock exchange 50 years ago. It’s about recognising how we can look back to look forward. These stories are important to understand our journey from where we were to where we are now.”

Christine Spencer © © Charlie Bibby/FT

Christine Spencer

“I was Christine Evans. And in 1974 I was the youngest ever female dealer on the floor, just before my 18th birthday. I had joined Sternberg Flower at 16 straight from school in the statistics department.
“In 74, when I was the youngest woman, I was invited to a Women of the Year luncheon. I was on the top table and Diana Rigg kept talking to me. And in ’78, the Queen came to visit.”

Female staff line up for a visit by the Queen to the LSE

“I was very keen to specialise, and Sternberg had this arm of traditional options, but again, they were not quite so keen on putting me into a specialist market. In ’77 I was headhunted in to investment trusts at James Capel. I stayed there until 1988 when I left to have children and went back in ’97 when I retook all my exams, but the market had changed so much, it wasn’t really something I enjoyed.”

Additional reporting by Akila Quinio

​Letters in response to this article:

When a woman in trousers caused stockjobbers to stir / From Cedric Feather, London NW11, UK

Female trailblazer recalls life as an LSE stockjobber / From Liza Macdonald (formerly McLaren), Edinburgh, UK

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