Celebrating 100 years of women in the law
Black Letter Communications is proud to be working with The First 100 Years, the ground-breaking project charting the journey of women in the legal profession.
This year is a pivotal year for the project as it sets out to mark the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which paved the way for women to become lawyers.
Already this year we have launched a podcast series exploring the history and achievements of women in law, decade by decade and two new films featuring, Cherie Booth QC and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC.
It was fantastic to attend these launches, both of which were followed by a Q&A with the film’s protagonist. I was particularly struck by Cherie Booth recalling how when she moved into No.10, government officials could not get their heads around why she was continuing to work full-time, taking no account of the fact that she was an in-demand Queen’s Counsel and arguably, far more successful than her husband.
Then there was an occasion early on in her career when Helena Kennedy raised the issue of sexual harassment at chambers, only to be told in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t something she needed to worry about as she wasn’t attractive enough to be sexually harassed. Thankfully, times have moved on, but not as quickly as they should.
Like many people I was shocked to read the Criminal Bar Association report ‘monstrous’ behaviour from some at the Bar, who it says are holding back progress on wellbeing and diversity in the profession.
I’m encouraged to hear people speaking out about such behaviour, but it shows why projects like the First 100 Years are so important if an equal legal profession is to emerge, where difference is celebrated and equality is a reality, not something just talked about. We’re working hard to help the project get the message out.
The project’s founder, Dana Denis-Smith, launched the First 100 Years to give women lawyers a voice, because, she says, without understanding the past we can’t learn lessons to take into the future. So as the project progresses through this pivotal year, promoting the legacy of the legal pioneers of the last 100 years, it is also casting an eye on the future and will be setting out a vision of how the next 100 years should look.
Despite its high profile as the definitive national campaign celebrating women in law over the last 100 years, it is a charity with limited resources and can’t achieve its aims without the support of individual lawyers, law firms, chambers and other legal organisations.
There are many opportunities to get involved and we’re particularly keen to hear from firms who would like to host a film launch at their firm, which would make an excellent and inspiring event for staff and clients alike. If you’d like to know more, please drop me a line.
Yet, supporting the work of the First 100 Years is just one part of the ask. As International Women’s Day approaches, I’d encourage you to look at your own organisation and ask if the role of women in it is equal to the role of male colleagues? And if not, challenge your organisation to be clear about what it is doing to achieve equality. Ultimately, it will be the actions we take now that we will be judged on in 100 years’ time.