We’ve come a long way baby…

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…to paraphrase Norman Cook.
As you might know, I’m a champion for a charity, the First 100 Years project. The project looks at the history of women in law. Next year it’ll be 100 years since the first women could be lawyers. It wasn’t until women became entities in the eyes of the law (emancipation) that they gained rights in a whole host of other areas.
In the early 1900s Insurance giant, Legal & General posted an advert entitled, ‘The start’. The advert said, “You are giving your son a thorough educational training. Should you not also make certain that in the event of your death it could be continued and completed”. Because of course, daughters were educated at home, under the supervision of a governess (if they were lucky!).
Perhaps ironically, L&G are now main sponsors of the ‘Cycle to MIPIM’ – supporting Coram, whose founder said in the 1700s: “An Evil amongst us here in England is to think Girls having learning given them is not so very Material as for boys to have it.”
We’ve come a long way since those heady days. But there are still only a limited number of women leading law firms and in senior positions. As recently as the late ‘80s there was no option to apply to Lincoln’s Inn for females. The forms had to be amended to replace the option ‘Mr’.
Bringing things up to date, we’ve still a long way to go. There are women partners and women running barristers’ chambers. But a recent study by Anjali Pindoria at the University of Westminster found the number of BAME female apprentices in construction in London to be running at approximately 0%. That compares with 5.6% of the population being of the same demography.
There are many examples of the problems we still have. The recent sex scandals at Oxfam and other charities. The refusal of the Northern Irish state to allow abortion, violating their rights (according to the United Nations). The abuses in the houses of parliament. The list goes on…
In my own experience of the past year, I’ve seen signs of the work still needed. There’s a networking group by the name of the ‘Doyle Club’ which takes place in the city each month. I went once. A friend has observed, it seems to comprise either old white men and young female business development types. I stayed for an hour or so, but left as it was becoming a raucous affair, and not somewhere I felt comfortable. I went back the following month, in case I’d got the wrong impression. I hadn’t.
It came as no surprise to me that the same group was at the event caught up in the ‘vegas girls’ scandal a few months later. A few female friends agreed when I jokingly likened the group to the Mos Eisely Space Cantina in Star Wars…
Then there’s the ‘presidents club’. Another white male-dominated event. Exposed not by a tabloid or a ‘fake sheikh’, but by the Financial Times. It seemingly exploited young women who were paid a low wage to ‘host’ an event and attend to men’s desires. Oddly, almost all the men who were questioned afterwards seem to have ‘left before the hostesses arrived’. It must have been an empty room indeed that they played host to. If the responses of the attendees are to be believed.
There’s an almost unending list of events and scenarios. But the positive thing is that although these things have been going on for years, at last we are questioning their acceptability.
It’s not right we should have girls on the podium at the Tour de France for Peter Sagan to pinch. It’s not right that women should be employed for their looks in order to win work for businesses. It’s not right that capable and intelligent women are limited in their careers because they have children to care for or because they might have children to care for.
A former colleague was told it was ok for her to be made redundant because she was ‘young’ and didn’t have children to support. Weirdly, there are men out there who still rely on their wives to pack their suitcases or cook them meals. There are men who think that it’s natural for women to look after children and so they shouldn’t work full time if they’ve got young kids.
These in-built prejudices need to be bred out, but it’ll take time. The First 100 Years project will be spending the next year raising awareness of the progress made in the hope that we can continue to build on it. Take a look at their website, and see what there is to learn, and why not join us for one of the many events we have planned.

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