Explore London

How women have shaped London

Many of London’s galleries, theaters and restaurants are headed by women. From our own CEO and founder, Merilee, to the Tate’s new director, it’s safe to say that female-headed organisations and events in London are amongst the best in the world.

So we’ve taken a look at the stellar attractions in London’s cultural scene, but also the local venues and more unknown draws created, directed and imagined by women. We’re proud to be celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8th.

London’s art galleries

The visual arts are a sector dominated by women: indeed, they represent 64% of creative arts graduates in the UK. There is a disconnect, however, in that there has long been a lack of women occupying the top positions in London’s internationally renowned galleries and art museums. In 2013 The Observer found that, of the top 30 publicly funded arts institutions around the country, only four were headed by women; two years later, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery both hired new directors, both male – and the 12th man in a row for the former.

There have been some improvements of late that have led to a proliferation of women within the industry. Last year Jennifer Scott became director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, said to be the world’s oldest purpose-built gallery. It’s currently displaying a comprehensive exhibition of Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), exploring her experimental use of abstraction in landscapes and portraiture that saw her displayed alongside the likes of Picasso and Matisse.

Maria Balshaw was recently appointed grand leader of the Tate galleries, succeeding the legendary Sir Nicholas Serota, while Frances Morris is the director of the Tate Modern, which is now
exhibiting the prolific photographer

Wolfgang Tillmans (we’d recommend you go). Morris has been pivotal in the development of the gallery, bringing in a strong focus on once-neglected female artists: including the likes of Louise Bourgeois (famous for those giant spiders) and Yayoi Kusama (those polka-dot pumpkins).

The Guardian

Business and creative industry

The importance of women in business was raised in December by our CEO and founder, Merilee Karr. She appeared on a panel organised by the FutureProof Foundation in partnership with Empower Women, a UN Women global initiative, and spoke to an audience of young, aspiring female entrepreneurs on what it takes to achieve success as businesswomen in the UK. Guests sitting on the panel included Angelica Malin, founder of About Time magazine, and Ella Woodward, author of the Deliciously Ella series.


Often depicted as host to aggression as heated as the kitchen’s ovens, there are a number of local and well-known restaurants across London now run by women. An alumnus of the Gordon Ramsey school, Clare Smyth is to open her first restaurant in Notting Hill in the early summer of this year. Almost as high-end is Oklava, a Turkish-Cypriot venue in Shoreditch run by Selin Kiazim while Erchen Chang is head chef at the sizzlingly trendy Bao in Soho. For more on unusual food trends this year, have a read of our blog article


Sport has also struggled to reach parity between men and women in terms of participation, but this, too, is changing in London. The launch of the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign has given real momentum to efforts to encourage women – and, crucially, girls – to become more involved with sport and exercise. London Sport is the local body that directs funding towards sport, and they have chosen nine organisations to help encourage female participation. A useful tool for finding local sports clubs, teams and venues aimed at women is provided by Get Active London.