Women leaders in the profession often credit mentors in their firms for their climb to the top. More junior lawyers mention that the lack of relatable female role models is dispiriting. This is especially true in private practice, where associates say that having more visible women in leadership positions makes them feel empowered and keen to strive for partnership.
When I founded the First 100 Years project to gear up for the centenary (in 2019) of women being allowed into the legal profession, I made two pledges to those who joined us at the House of Lords for the 2015 official launch. First, to deliver a comprehensive digital archive that centres on building a library of role models as our legacy for future generations. By using multimedia formats we can have the widest reach possible through our free-to-access stories.
The second was to campaign for a statue of a woman to be placed in Parliament Square. At the time, there were 10 men on plinths with an 11th about to arrive. So it was with much delight that in 2016 Spark21 became the charity for the campaign led by Caroline Criado Perez that has resulted in the recent unveiling of the square’s first female statue, that of Millicent Fawcett. It was a proud and moving day to see a dream realised, and perhaps the most visible of methods to recognise a woman’s achievements publicly. May it be the first in a string of many more role models being publicly celebrated.
Dana Denis-Smith, founder, First 100 Years Project