Female firsts are both inspiring and frustrating

November 13, 2019

This week it was announced that the Financial Times has appointed its first female editor in the newspaper’s 131-year history.


Current deputy editor Roula Khalaf will succeed Lionel Barber when he steps down in January after 34 years with the paper. Good luck to Ms Khalaf, who has described the FT as “the greatest news organisation in the world.”


Of course, it’s a bit of a shame that the words ‘first female’ have to be included in any headline these days. That highlights the sad truth that women making history by being officially recognised as good at something, here in 2019, is still ‘a thing.’ So the publication’s foot-dragging over putting a woman at the helm inspired me to take a look at other female firsts across a variety of industries. 

 Few would argue that women have always had a fair bite of the cherry when it comes to career advancement (or that they consistently do even in 2019), particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields such as STEM sectors. But I was quite encouraged to realise just how relatively early on women were making great strides in pursuing their passions, often against extreme resistance and overwhelming odds.


For example, Frances Marion became the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay with The Big House in 1930 – in what was only the awards’ second year. However, it did take a further 80 years for a female to clinch the Best Director statue, an unimpressive record that was finally broken by Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker


Pleasingly, adventure has been an arena in which intrepid women have been stepping out for centuries. Élisabeth Thible of France became the first known women to ride in a hot air balloon when she took to the skies in 1784, less than a year after two chaps embarked on the first untethered flight ever.


The first half of the 20th century was a strong time for female adventurers, with the likes of Harriet Quimby, Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart earning themselves a place in aviation history by 1932. 


We had to wait until 1997 though to see the first female CEO of a FTSE 100 company and until 2017 for the first female commissioner of the Met Police. We’ve got two female UK Prime Ministers under our collective belt but, of course, we’re yet to see a woman in the White House.


However, with the winds of change blowing ever more persistently, some of those remaining straw houses must surely fall and soon. 


Image by Mohamed Hassan at Pixabay

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