The Red Chair: Memories, Ideas and Changes (2015 Spark21 Conference)

Published 31st 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.

So what memories and emotions are you going to take away today?

I think it’s really [about] remembering how far we’ve come as women lawyers. It’s very, very easy to look at the problems, the issues [and] what we still need to achieve, but actually today’s been a real celebration of how far we’ve come and there have been several speakers that have made that point but we do need to remember how far we’ve come instead of constantly focusing on the issues. So I’ve been re-energised by this. I feel “wow, this is awesome. We’ve come a long way. There’s still a way to go but we have actually come a long way as women lawyers.”

What were [some of] the new [ideas] that came out of today’s [discussion]?

The new thing that really came out to me was just how important it is to get the men on board. I mean its not new in a sense but that really is the key I think to getting true gender balance: it is to make sure that you’ve got the men on board with the childcare [and] with this whole debate because it’s a half and half. It’s a two-way street here and if we keep ostracising men or leave them feeling that they are ostracised then we’re not actually going to progress. So something that I’ve taken on actually [is that] we need to really be playing out the whole “he for she”. You know, the UN’s gender equality campaign. We need to roll that out within law and get the men enrolled in this whole debate.

What inspiration should we take out of the fact that law firms already, even if it’s just through the bricks and water, have aged with the project?

We need to look at where we were with law firms, even just before the recession to now. A lot more firms have set gender diversity targets. A number of firms have formed an organisation called Prime where they’re offering work placements for social mobility to really broaden access. There’s so much activity around multiple diversity strands now and we really need to look at that, celebrate that and encourage that, and really applaud the firms that have taken a stand and are doing this because it’s a huge remove from where we were. I think we do need to celebrate those law firms.

What will you take away in terms of the project’s message and the project’s ambitions?

Well I’ll take away two things. One, things have changed a lot. When I went to Law School, in a class of 200, there were 4 women and I learnt to play darts. Now of course it’s just over half of the people that go into law are women, which is great, but the major problems still remain. The problems about how you deal with salaries and how you deal with having to take time off for families. It’s a perennial question and I think there needs to be a lot more flexibility. I had my own practice and I organised it so that I could take in what we call twilight workers. They work from 5 til 8. They were mainly legal executives, not lawyers, but it meant that they could continue. They used to come in with their babies in the carrycot. Babies went under the desk and they worked. We had arrangements where they would see clients on Saturdays when their husbands were off work. I would go in on Saturdays. We’d all have Monday off. It was a very flexible arrangement and I’m sure the large firms, because they work 24/7, could organise something like that but they don’t seem to have the will, that’s the problem.

What do you think are the big changes that need to be made if the First 100 Years could make one change?

I think its good that the government has recently introduced equal maternity rights for men. What would be really great is men stepping into that so men kind of taking the choice to take time off work. Then the whole issue about women coming back to work after having babies wouldn’t be so much of an issue if both men and women are taking time off to support that.

How important or how different is the role for women across the law from your experience?

Well I think that has been one of the very interesting things. I asked a question earlier because I’d been quite shocked at the percentage of women solicitors who are made partners and I’d always assume that the Bar where I’m at wasn’t great, but what I’ve learnt today is [a lot about] what the Bar is doing [and how] the Independent Judicial Appointments Commission [is] making diversity a requirement for promotion to be a Queen’s Counsel or to be part of the Judiciary. That’s incredibly important and that’s about embedding cultures. You’re making men and women talk about diversity in the application process to demonstrate their understanding that there are a diverse range of people that use the law and who practice the law and I think that’s going to shape [the next] generation. Now I think for me the critical question that is emerging is, ‘how are we going to speed this up?’ I’m really keen to see what happens this afternoon because I want to say to people, ‘what are we going to do to make us not have to wait another 50 years because it’s been 100 years,’ and I hadn’t quite realised that before coming today so that for me is one of the very interesting things about today.

Newsletter Sign Up
Get the latest updates on the First 100 Years Project and join our journey.