The First 100 Years, spearheaded by Obelisk, is a five-year project seeking to discover and promote the stories of innovative and pioneering women in the legal profession.
The establishment of Obelisk, under the direction of Dana Denis-Smith, was a catalyst for conversations between current and past City lawyers, focusing on the issues and difficulties of their working environment. Among the reoccurring topics of discussion, many felt that there was a significant lack of role models for women within the profession and thus a need to create conversation addressing these gender issues.
The First 100 Years, launched in 2014 (on International Women’s Day and 95 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919), will run for five years; within this period, Denis-Smith hopes to create an archive of 100 video stories, as well as the opportunity to share many others through the project’s website and at related events. The stories accumulated so far tell the personal and inspirational backgrounds of women entering the law, both more recently as well as those who helped shape the profession from its beginning. Both the Law Society and the Bar Council are supporting the project, but the organisers are also seeking the help of students to give the collaboration “a life of its own”.
Denis-Smith hopes to work with university law departments, as well as schools in the future, to create events and divisions of the First 100 Years, allowing women from across the United Kingdom the opportunity to tell their story and become role models for future lawyers. She encourages anyone with an interest in becoming involved in the project to contact them directly via email ([email protected]).
Speaking to LawCareers.Net about her personal inspiration for the project, Denis-Smith recalls a photo taken of a partnership celebration at Herbert Smith in 1982. At a table of all the partners – among a group of over 50 – only one woman sits at the table. She reflects how the power of this moment “blew me away”: the event in history so recent, and yet captures a critical moment for change.
To read more about the project, please visit the First 100 Years website. You can read more about initiatives currently being taken by City law firms to address gender diversity in our recent feature.