To mark International Women’s Day, we’re taking a look at how the Society has empowered women and supported gender equality right from the very beginning.
As a mutual operating in the best interests of our members, fairness is at the core of our business model as it has been since we were founded back in 1849. The Ipswich and Suffolk Freehold Land Society (FLS) was established to extend the franchise to the working classes by balloting off plots of land large enough to confer the owner the right to vote in national elections.
At the forefront of social change
All of our members, regardless of gender or age, were treated fairly even back in those days – in fact, the decision by the Society to give equal voting rights to both men and women was nothing short of extraordinary at a time where women would not be able to vote in elections for many decades.
Our records show that in 1885, during a ballot of 9 houses on a newly-constructed estate in Felixstowe, no fewer than five went to female members – meaning that a significant proportion of the 470 members balloted must have been women. It’s possible that many were encouraged to set up businesses and take advantage of the newly passed Married Women’s Property Act 1882, which significantly altered English law regarding the property rights of married women.
Empowering women today
A lot has changed over the last 170 years but our values have remained the same. Currently more than 70% of our staff are women and comprise half of our Senior Management Team, as well as 2 out of 9 members of our Board, as well as being well-represented across all levels of management within the Society.
In 2018 we signed up to the Women in Finance Charter which aims to achieve 30% female representation on the Board by 2023, and we’ve undertaken a rigorous management training programme to tackle unconscious bias and ensure that all members of staff are treated fairly.