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.

30th Anniversary

We celebrated our 30th Anniversary in 2019 with a year filled with fabulous events, gatherings and celebrations. We welcomed over 30 new members and extended the diversity of our membership across sectors. We conducted a Members’ Survey and appreciated receiving excellent feedback to help guide our thinking and future direction. (See photos below)

We held our Anniversary dinner at the Caledonian Club in London in June, paying tribute to our founders and former chairs and looked ahead to what the next decade may offer. In September, we organised a Mentoring Walk starting in St James's Park for members to share advice and experience with younger women navigating their future career paths.

Our Spring and Autumn Receptions were lively gatherings that appealed to members and guests alike and offered an opportunity to showcase the important work of the IWF Leadership Foundation and Fellows Programme and open up a broader discussion around Diversity – what it means to each of us and how we can take the agenda forward.

Baroness Hale, President of the Supreme Court, gave a fascinating 30th Anniversary Jean Denton lecture, sharing highlights of her personal journey. We rounded off the year with a terrific panel discussion on Impact Investing led by Dame Elizabeth Corley and our famous Christmas Breakfast, this time held at Fortnum & Mason.

Photos below of our Anniversary Dinner

30th Anniversary Dinner

Photos below from our mentoring walk

30th Anniversary Mentoring Walk

Photos from the Jean Denton Lecture

Jean Denton Lecture

Photos from our Christmas Breakfast

30th Anniversary Christmas Breakfast

25th Anniversary

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.