1. What is the First 100 Years project and what inspired it?
I started the First 100 Years in 2014 as a 5-year campaign to build the largest digital archive charting the journey of women in law since 1919, when the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed to open the door to women entering the professions, including the Bar. In the past 4 years, we collated much archival material, commissioned original biographical films, organised events with a focus on celebrating the past to ensure a more equal future for all in the legal profession.
I was inspired to start the project by a photograph, from 1982, in which a group of partners celebrated the 150th anniversary of their city law firm - in the photo, there was just one woman in the middle. It prompted me to find out when women started to enter the profession and realised how recent it all was. I felt it was important to record and collect the voices of women that became trailblazers in the profession and turn them into role models for generations to come.
2. What do you hope the impact/legacy of the First 100 Years will be?
This body of material we produced over 5 years will be donated to a public library to be used by generations to come. I am hoping this will ensure that history remembers the numerous women that have worked hard to break into the professions at a time they would have often been the only woman in the room. I hope also that by setting the whole diversity discussion into its historic context we are more likely to acknowledge the progress made in the first 100 years as well as to identify the key areas of change we need to focus on for the next 100 years.
3. Who is your female professional icon?
The role model for me is usually a puzzle made up of a number of women - a combination of philosopher Mary Midgley, a woman returning to her professional career after raising a family; entrepreneur and philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley, who believes in a life worth living; Baroness Hale, for her role in bringing other women with her in the legal profession and in the public sphere; the campaigner and lawyer Helena Normanton QC as well as the legal trailblazer that was Rose Heilbron. The last two arrived at the same destination - taking silk in 1949 - but in very different ways, showing there are many recipes for success for women.
4. What do you think is the importance of 'male allies' in achieving gender equality?
At the time the 1919 Act was passed, the House of Commons had just one woman MP, so throughout history male allies - or #HelpfulMen - have been instrumental to supporting women entering the professions, so now we need them to also support women having a whole career in law, to include taking silk, progressing in the judiciary and taking more leadership positions.
5. Looking to the next 100 years, what does gender equality in the legal profession look like to you?
My biggest hope is that in 100 years' time the whole concept of 'gender equality' won't be required and that women and men will be not just equal participants in the legal profession, as is the case now, but equally represented at all levels in the profession and equally rewarded for their work.