The Red Chair: Messages, Hopes and Inspirations (2015 Spark21 Conference)

Published 24th October 2016
As we look forward to the Annual Spark 21 Conference on 9 November 2016 at Simmons & Simmons LLP, the First 100 Years Project will be publishing excerpts of speeches from the 2015 Spark21 Conference every Monday, leading up to this year’s conference. Please visit the website for more information on how to attend.


The Red Chair Interviews

*We feature excerpts from the many conference attendees who are brave enough to sit on our Red Chair. The idea behind the Red Chair is for people from all stages of the legal profession to share stories and thoughts for the day in the journey of celebrating women in law.

What was your expectation and your hope of what would come out of today in terms of [the] atmosphere, conversation [and] people talking about The First 100 Years?

I think for me the main thing is about reframing the debate around women and their role in law and [the] wider [profession]: to be inspired from outside and inside the profession [and] to get people to be candid about the stories they share. I think we had quite a few actually from the opening remarks of Catherine Dixon. I had no idea that she’d had something happen to her and it’s incredible that everybody carries their story with them. It’s an amazing opportunity for us where these stories actually come out. They’re not being held out in a kind of negative “look, I’m a victim” way; they’re more in terms of you know, this is how times used to be. Maybe stuff like this will still happen to women in law, but actually, let’s pause, talk about them, and draw some really strong conclusions from it and progress rather than carry them inside us and become victims because we have these secrets that we’re not sharing.

Tell us how inclusive, broad, and important it is for the project [to bring] in women of all ages from across the sector.

I think the uniqueness of this project is that it actually talks to all the aspects of the law and all the generations that have shaped the future for women. We shouldn’t be just cherry-picking the ones that we think are the right role models. One of the points made was [that] role models that we do have are [either] unattainable [or are] people that we don’t identify with. I think the project brings stories that you can genuinely identify with and they really highlight the choices people made, the difficulties they face, and how they overcame them. I think they’re really valuable things to discuss and take away: whatever [that] is relevant and [that] resonates with each one of the people that are participating. You’re not trying to get everybody to feel one way. We’re trying for everybody to learn something that has made that little small change to the way they will perform at work, [the way they] see women in the workplace, [and the way] they will support the ones that come after them.

What are the stories or the inspirational messages for you and your favourites so far?

Well that’s a really important question, because I’m actually here to pick up stories because I’m actually thinking about writing a play for the First 100 Years ….. I’m here today to earwig and collect stories. I’m really interested in the story about the first solicitor, Carrie Morrison and the chase ….. that’s quite a dramatic idea: the race down Chancery Lane. The first women QC Judge whose daughter was speaking in the first session this morning: that’s another really interesting story. Also I think it’s interesting to go back one generation and look at the women that brought those women up and what happened in the generations in between so I’m looking for stories that connect women 100 years ago to women today. I thought it was really interesting listening to Dame Carol talk about the span of her career. I know she’s not a lawyer but what’s interesting is how many different waters she has dipped her toe into and I think that’s something very interesting. Often women don’t just stick to one path. They sometimes have to be more flexible and that’s something I might reflect in the play.

I was just thinking about formats for the play. I’m not sure actually yet what it’s going to be: whether it needs to be a stage play or a radio play or whether it’ll be traditional in terms of scenes or whether it might be something like interviews with 100 women, some of whom are fictitious even and some of whom are dead. Yeah, so I’m collecting stories for today so I need to be going round asking this question to other people.

What are your sort of hopes for where the project may end up?

Well my feelings about it are that it’s a fantastic project. I think it’s really important to have staging posts like this where people can reflect on progress and reflect on where there is still improvement to be made and where the world has changed and where the world still needs to change. I should think along the Act that enabled women to study at university in 1919 obviously spawned a lot of other professions, not just the law, so I’m sure there will be other professions taking this sort of moment to see how far we’ve come. I think it’s a wonderful project. I think it’s really important that Dana has got men involved as well because women can’t change the world without men so I think its great that there are men involved in the project. I’m looking forward to the all-male panel this afternoon.

What are the most inspiring things you’ve heard so far about change and the changes that are needed?

That changes are happening. They may be slow in coming but they are happening and the importance of women supporting each other, providing a support network for one another so that we can move forward.