Our History

IWF UK was founded in 1989 by a small group of visionary women who saw the need for an organisation specifically for female leaders at a time when many sectors of the economy were heavily male-dominated.

The founders were Mary Baker, Heather Brigstocke, Jean Denton, Barbara Hosking, Rosalind Gilmore and Katharine Whitehorn. The creation of a special forum where top women could meet was inspired by a visit to the US in 1983 at the invitation of Elinor (Elly) Guggenheimer, co-founder of the National Women’s Forum in New York.

The UK was the first non-US chapter of the International Women’s Forum. At the 25th anniversary in 2014, Rosalind Gilmore recalled the discussion she had had with Jane Macon, then IWF President, which led to the UK joining. “Britain put the ‘I’ into IWF,” she said.

The first Chair was Jean Denton - Baroness Denton of Wakefield – who served from 1989 to 1992.  She was a champion rally driver and businesswoman who went into politics in the 1990s, becoming the first woman to hold a ministerial post in Northern Ireland in 1994 under Prime Minister John Major.

Each year, we hold The Jean Denton Lecture in her memory, inviting a high-profile speaker. Speakers have included Baroness Valerie Amos CH, Dame Fiona Woolf DBE DL, and Professor Dame Carol Black, DBE, FRCP.

Our 25th anniversary celebrations in 2014 included a lunch party at BAFTA, behind-the-scenes tours of the Barbican, Kenwood House and Oxford, and a Gala Dinner at Mansion House in the City of London. The year concluded with ‘Portrayed! 25 Years of Inspiring Women’, an exhibition of portraits of four founders and 12 chairs of the organisation. The portraits have since been exhibited in a number of leading venues, leaving a powerful legacy for future generations.  Susan Young, our Chair at the time, made these videos celebrating the organisation with the views of members about why it was so special to them.