The position of English Poet Laureate was officially established in 1668 with the selection of John Dryden. Since then there have been an additional 21 Poets Laureate of varying abilities writing in varying styles but with one thing in common:
They were all men.
Now, however, there is a movement to change that. The ten-year term of the current Poet Laureate (it's no longer a lifetime appointment) expires next year, and organizers of the prestigious Ledbury Poetry Festival have sent a letter to the Queen, the Prime Minister and other government officials urging them to seriously consider selecting a woman to replace current Laureate Andrew Motion. The official response from Downing Street: "The Prime Minister was grateful for your comments, which will be taken fully into account at the appropriate time."
By the way, the position of United States Poet Laureate was established in 1937, and was known until 1986 as "Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress." Unlike in Britain the term of office is only one year (though it can be renewed), and, as a result, there have been 45 people to hold that position. In terms of gender equity we're doing a bit better than the Brits, with nine of those 45 being women. Of course it may simply be less "threatening" to appoint a woman to such an office for only one year as opposed to ten years or the rest of her life.
More on this story can be found here . A list of British Poets Laureate is here. The American ones are here.