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Women Who Will

Women Who Will 2020 Report


In compiling this report, the teams at Obelisk Support and Next 100 Years invited nominations from senior General Counsel and other senior leaders in law, as well as including women recognised by the judges of the First 100 Years / Next 100 Years Inspirational Women in Law Awards and doing our own research across published and social media.
Space only permits us to shout out 30 brilliant women in this report. We know there are many, many more Women Who Will out there, and we hope this prompts greater recognition of all the talented women across the legal industry.


A letter from Dana Denis-Smith


Back in 2019 as we celebrated 100 years of women being able to practise law in England Wales, my team and I had the idea of inviting legal leaders in the FTSE 100 to champion some of the talented women they work with. As well as shining a light on talented individuals, we also wanted to reflect on the gender diversity of leadership in law and why it matters. As founder supporters of the First 100 Years Project, now the Next 100 Years Project, we at Obelisk have always been vocal supporters of diversity in the profession.
Dana Denis-Smith
When we started this project, the new coronavirus and covid 19 were unknown. Since then, we have been through a period of change not many of us could have imagined the bulk of legal work has been carried out from home, institutions such as schools and universities closed their doors for almost six months in the UK and support for those caring for elderly or SEND relatives has been drastically reduced. Now, as economies around the world watch and wait to see how recovery will take shape, and we assess the impact of the crisis on professional careers and institutions, strong and diverse leadership will become more important than ever.
It has been widely reported that the recent lockdowns across much of the world will have a disproportionate impact on women. They are more likely than men to pick up the additional work within the home associated with educating and caring for their children, even when both parents are at home and work full time. They are more likely to work in positions that have been furloughed or made redundant. In the UK, women led businesses are also less likely to have been able to access government funding. Against this backdrop, we feel it is more important than ever to shine a light on the huge potential and achievements of women in law, so we have joined forces with the Next 100 Years project and The Inspirational Women in Law Awards now in their fifth year, to compile this report. We thank those leaders in the FTSE 100 who have joined us in contributing their personal “Women who will” to our 2020 list and all those who have helped judge the Awards over the years.
Despite being able to practise law for just over 100 years in the UK, making up 60% of new entrants to the profession, women are still under-represented at the highest levels of leadership in the industry. Over these past months of disruption, I have been struck by how fast the legal industry has been able to adapt to remote-working. It shows that many of the barriers put up in the past to such change were mindset, not reality. I hope our industry will find a fresh impetus to discard other equally outmoded biases and structural inequalities and embrace the potential of women at all stages of their careers and from all backgrounds. Encouraged by the recent election of Georgia Dawson as the inaugural female senior partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, I truly believe we have come too far to go backwards now.

Dana Denis-Smith

Obelisk Support
Ellipse 19


Women make up half the world’s population, and it is undisputed that no country, community, or economy can achieve its potential until girls and women have the same rights, opportunities, and voice as boys and men. We must keep it vividly in our mind that everyone has something to bring to the table, and when empowered to believe in our aspirations, each one of us contributes in our unique way.
We women ─ and women of colour in particular ─ must remain resilient in everything we do. We must believe in our authentic self as we define our goals and surround ourselves with those who help us move up in the pursuit of our aspirations. Take a minute and think of who inspires you in life, who is there to mentor you through thick and thin, and reflect on what your support system ought to look like to achieve your definition of success.

When I was eight years old, my schoolteacher went around the classroom asking pupils “what would you like to be when you grow up?”. Between children dreaming of becoming princesses and footballers, I was more mature in my answer: “I want to be a judge.

Women’s journey to the top is not an easy one, but it is certainly not impossible. Ceilings are meant to be broken, and we must hold a mirror up to society as we navigate the complexities of gender-based discriminations. This starts in the home and continues in schools, universities, in our relationships, and at the workplace.
Investing in people is critical to how successful a company, a law firm, or a home can be. Quite literally, companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability, and those with the most ethnically and culturally diverse boards are 43% more likely to experience higher profits.
We must remember to celebrate our diversity, intellectual wealth, and what makes us unique. To never give up on our authentic self because of social constructs or norms that challenge our differences, and as importantly, to pass it forward to the next generation. A better future for girls and women starts now.

‘”My parents always told me that the only limits on my potential are the limits I set for myself.”

Sandie Okoro

Senior Vice President and General Counsel
World Bank Group
Asset 2 100

Diversity statistics for women and Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic people in different areas of the UK legal profession.

*Data collected from the Ministry of Justice Report: Diversity of the judiciary: Legal professions, new appointments and current post-holders published September 2020.


Supreme Court:

  • 2/12 Justices are women * 16% 16%
  • 0/12 are BAME* 0% 0%


Court of Appeal & High Court:

  • Women * 25% 25%
  • BAME* 3.5% 3.5%

Law firms

# of Top 100 UK firms where the most senior leadership position are women and BAME

Managing Partner

  • Women 20% 20%
  • BAME 1% 1%

Senior Partner

  • Women 27% 27%
  • BAME 4% 4%


  • Women 15% 15%
  • BAME 0% 0%

In House

% of General Counsel at FTSE 100 Companies are:

  • Women 35% 35%
  • BAME 5% 5%


% of Queen’s Counsel are*:

  • Women 17% 17%
  • BAME 9% 9%

“I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough ( women on the Supreme Court)?’

My answer is: ‘When there are nine.’

People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

– Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Asset 4 100

From the in-house community

Nilema Bhakta-Jones

Chief Operating Officer

Caroline Brown

Head of Legal Operations

Dr. Laura Janes

The Howard League
Legal Director

Caroline Halliday

Schroders PLC
Legal Counsel

Danette Joslyn-Gaul

Legal Director

Rebekah Martin

Senior Vice President Reward and Inclusion

Ruth Murphy

Legal Director, In-Life and Product

Deborah Stevens

Persimmons Homes
Company Solicitor

Carol Paton

Royal Bank of Scotland
Head of Litigation and Investigations

Sarah Thomas

Sage Group
EVP Deputy General Counsel

“I’ve always been really focused on my career, doing what I can and allowing other people’s sexism, racism and prejudice to be their problem and not mine.”

– Baroness Scotland QC
Asset 4 100

From private practice and the Bar

Oxana Balayan

Hogan Lovells
Partner, Global M&A Leadership Team, Head of Corporate Russia & CIS

Keily Blair


Kirsty Brimelow QC

Doughty Street Chambers

Anita Jewit

Irwin Mitchell

Alison Eddy

Irwin Mitchell
Managing Partner, London

Hilary Meredith

Hilary Meredith Solicitors
Chairman and Founder

Rachel Welch-Philips

Bird & Bird

Priscilla Osoba

Burges Salmon

Claire Wills

Partner, Corporate & M&A and Managing Partner, London

Rehana Popal

33 Bedford Row

“As a profession, we simply cannot afford to waste a single dedicated and talented person, let alone an entire gender!”

– Cherie Blair, CBE QC
Asset 4 100

The legal change-makers

Malvika Jaganmohan

St Ives Chambers

Tessa Khan

Climate Litigation Network

Karlia Lykourgou

Doughty Street Chambers

Shanika Amarasekara MBE

British Business Bank
General Counsel and Company Secretary

Sabrina Mahtani

The Elders Foundation
Senior Policy Advisor

Rebecca Perlman

Herbert Smith Freehills
Senior Associate, Co-Chair of Impact Investment

Louise Whitfield

Head of Legal Casework

Natasha Rattu

Karma Nirvana
Executive Director

Alexandra Wilson

Five St Andrew’s Hill

Jennifer Swallow


Why does diversity in leadership matter?

Diversity doesn’t only matter from a moral standpoint. A large body of recent research worldwide shows that greater diversity encompassing gender and other characteristics in senior management teams leads to better business performance. Similarly, it acts to attract a greater diversity of candidates to join the organisation, with research by PWC2 finding that 61% of female candidates for a role look at the diversity of an organisation’s leadership before deciding to accept a position.

Greater diversity and inclusion leads to:

Greater profitability

Research for the IMF3 found a positive association between gender diversity in senior teams at companies in Europe and financial performance, particularly in companies in knowledge-intensive sectors. Researchers at Deloitte found that teams which felt they had inclusive leaders were 17% more likely to report high performance and 20% more likely to feel they made high-quality decisions.(4)

In the legal industry, we have already seen clients taking the lead in demanding greater diversity from their supplier firms. For example, in April of this year, British communications company BT (5) announced that the firmwith the best D&I statistics across its partner, associate and trainee workforce would automatically have their place on their panel reconfirmed.

Superior risk management

Broadening the collective experience and perspective of a team and listening to everyone’s input leads to better decision-making and makes it less likely that a team or organisation will overlook potential risks due to “group-think”. Researchers have found that greater diversity of age, ethnic background and gender in boards leads to less risky financial decisions and correlates with improved performance.(6)

Increased innovation

Research by the Boston Consulting Group published in 2018 found that “Companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue that was 19 percentage points higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity—45% of total revenue versus just 26%.”(7) In a business environment which was changing rapidly due to economic and technological pressures even before the C-19 pandemic hit, rapid and successful innovation is critical to future organisational success.

Barriers that women face

The motherhood penalty

For women who want to have children and build their career, current structures in the legal profession put them at a disadvantage. The peak years for building skills, expertise and network coincide neatly with the years when women are most likely to have to meet the demands of homelife, yet 60% of women surveyed in 2019 felt that working part-time would impact on their career prospects.(8) For too many women, trying to balance both is exhausting, with the increased demands of the recent lockdown adding to the pressure: “I am the only female solicitor in a team of five. The other solicitors’ partners manage the home-schooling for their children, but I have only been able to manage my workload by working early morning and late evening.”, explained an in-house solicitor who replied to the First 100 Years project’s survey in May 2020.(9)

Asset 8 100
Asset 9 100

Bias in the workplace and society

Engrained expectations of women’s roles in society mean that the motherhood penalty is often applied even to those women who choose not to have children, as the perceived risk of them doing so is seen as enough to shut them out of opportunities.

Bias also leads to existing leaders recruiting in their own image, and given there are more men than women leaders, this reinforces the imbalance. In their work on the issue, the Law Society of England & Wales found that “perpetuated notions of women’s difference to their male counterparts results in their exclusion at all stages of a single career and ultimately limits advancement to positions of leadership.”(10)

Bias is particularly apparent when multiple characteristics intersect, for example being a BAME woman in law is even harder. “I think as a black woman, I over-compensate. I don’t want to be perceived as aggressive or in a certain way…it makes it difficult to be my true authentic self.”, one respondent told the Law Society’s roundtable research into the subject.(11)

Lack of role-models and visibility of women leaders

“You can’t be what you can’t see” …. Well, you can, and many women do, but it’s a lot harder. Google “Picture of legal leader” and you will see more men than women’s faces on the image search returned – and very little ethnic diversity. This lack of visibility serves to reconfirm existing biases and exacerbates “imposter syndrome”, where a person doubts their accomplishments, despite external evidence, and under-performs or leaves the profession altogether.

Strategies for change

Managing sponsorship

Organisations tend to be proud of coaching and mentoring schemes aimed at encouraging women to progress. However, research by nonprofit diversity experts Catalyst(12) has found that the most powerful support a potential female leader can receive is sponsorship from above. Most easily thought of as “the person who will put you forward when you are not in the room”, sponsors often bestow their patronage unconsciously. To avoid bias, senior leaders must begin to think consciously about how they are evaluating potential and who they are championing.

Re-routing career paths

Recent events have seen the myth that work has to happen in an office bust wide open. Now it’s time to challenge the convention that a career can only follow one pattern – a linear path from training to leadership that takes place between the ages of 21 and 50. Life expectancy for men and women is increasing; 50% of the children born today in rich countries are likely to reach the age of 100 or more.(13) Why then should we compress our career into the same years that we did when we could expect to live only until 70?

Ellipse 19
The book On-ramps and off-ramps by Sylvia Ann Hewlett described the penalties women face for stepping off the career ladder, and posited solutions back in 2007, yet programmes to bring women back to work after a break are still in their infancy, especially when compared to the prevalence of graduate recruitment schemes.

Too often people with a previous track record of achievement, followed by a career break or time spent in a part-time or more junior position, are viewed as less desirable candidates for senior roles. Priorities may shift as life transitions take place, potential does not. It is time to recognise that the qualities that make an effective leader may in fact be sharpened by time out of the professional workplace. The design of recruiting, retention and training practices that encourage more women, and men, to pursue flexible careers is essential to build greater diversity in leadership in the future.

Asset 11 100

Building inclusive work environments

As the coronavirus pandemic has shown that working from remotely isn’t a barrier to working effectively, and in fact may even lead to an increase in productivity, there is an opportunity to rebuild the physical environment in ways that put less emphasis on physical presence in an office. More importantly, legal organisations have an opportunity to reset the culture in their workplaces. Research by Thomson Reuters Acritas found that organisations that take strong action on behaviours that are contrary to their diversity & inclusion policies are more likely to retain and develop female staff.(14)

Re-imagining leadership

How do we describe a good leader? Traditionally traits such as dedication (as manifested by working long hours), technical expertise, a focus on achievement at all costs, the ability to “win” at negotiations, perceived charisma and confidence, the strength to command and to feel comfortable in the limelight have been celebrated and sought after. They are traits that many societies tend to be more comfortable with when they are manifested by men.

When women show these same qualities, studies have found that they are perceived as either less likeable or less trustworthy.(15) At the same time, researchers such as Daniel Goleman(17) have suggested that the most effective leaders are able to flex their style across a much wider range of styles and behaviours. Now is the time to rethink how the legal industry describes, nurtures and evaluates leaders, whilst consciously tackling deep seated bias.

Measuring diversity and setting targets

Setting targets based on detailed diversity data can help today’s legal leaders drive change for the future. To accelerate diversity across all dimensions in the legal profession, now is the time to be bold and take decisive action across all areas: positions on senior management teams, supplier contracts awarded, public appointments. It is heartening to see both the inhouse and private practice communities working together on such initiatives.

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About the Next 100 Years

Founded by Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support, who conceived the idea for the First 100 Years project back in 2014 when she stumbled upon a photograph from 1982. It showed City law firm, Herbert Smith (now Herbert Smith Freehills) celebrating its centenary. Front and centre of the photo was the firm’s first female partner, Dorothy Livingstone.
For Dana it was the start of a five-year journey to chart and celebrate the history of women in the law and to inspire future generations. Activities have included the commissioning of the first artwork for the Supreme Court to focus on women lawyers, the publication of “First” a book dedicated to the stories of the women legal pioneers and the creation of an archive of films capturing the stories of the first women to occupy different roles across the profession.
The Next 100 Years continues this work whilst looking to the future and how we can create an equal future for women in law. Obelisk Support is proud to be a founding sponsor of the Project and to have helped it grow and succeed over the last six years.

Find out more about the project at www.next100years.org.uk

Inspirational Women in Law Awards

Five years at a glance


Barrister of the Year

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC
Anneli Howard
Kama Melly QC – Winner
Sheryl Nwosu
Sarah Pinder

Solicitor of the Year

Amanda Adeola
Vanessa Challess
Tracey Dovaston – Winner
Attia Hussain
Farzana Naz

Champion of the Year

Natasha Harrison
Samina Iqbal – Winner
Sabeena Pirooz
David Stone
Suzanne White

Under-35 Lawyer of the Year

Chloe Birch
Netanya Clixby
Anne Collins
Sangeetha Iengar
Karlia Lykourgou – Winner

In-House Lawyer of the Year

Shanika Amarasekara MBE
Clare Belcher
Anne Bodley, Lexlead – Winner
Amy Marren
Angharad Price

Lifetime Achievement Award

Cherie Blair QC


Barrister of the Year

Elaine Banton
Poonam Bhari
Kate Brunner QC
Professor Jo Delahunty QC
Rehana Popal – Winner
Professor Suzanne Rab

Solicitor of the Year

Hermione Allen
Danielle Ayres
Catherine Hart
Dr Laura Janes – Winner
Sarah Khan-Bashir MBE
Kelly Thomson

Champion of the Year

Dr Kim Barker
Alison Eddy – Winner
Jemima Lovatt
Sun-Hee Park
Rachel Pears
Eduardo Reyes

Under-35 Lawyer of the Year

Cynthia Jakes
Stephanie Kay
Coralie McKeivor
Coleen Mensa
Ingrid Munyaneza
Priscilla Osoba – Winner

In-House Lawyer of the Year

Penny Caven
Elaine Hutton
Catherine Palmer – Winner
Ruth Pearson
Prini Pithouse
Angharad Price

Lifetime Achievement Award

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC


Barrister of the Year

Kirsty Brimelow QC – Winner
Martha Cover
Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC
Angela Rafferty QC
Brie Stevens-Hoare QC

Solicitor of the Year

Katja Butler
Hilary Meredith – Winner
Brandusa Tataru-Marinescu
Belinda Lester
Natasha Harrison

Champion of the Year

Ray Berg
Nilema Bhakta-Jones – Winner
Dan Fitz
Charlotte Wannedeya
Mary-Ann Wright

Under-35 Lawyer of the Year

Frances Hull
Zeena Luchowa
Katherine McAssey
Annsley MerelleWard
Rachel Welch-Phillips – Winner

In-House Lawyer of the Year

Maaike de Bie
Ruth Murphy – Winner
Jolie Norris
Anna Suchopar

Lifetime Achievement Award

Baroness Hale


Anita Jewitt – Winner
Harriet Johnson
Suzanne Keenan
Suzanne Szczetnikowicz
Jenny Wilde


Keily Blair – Winner
Annie Flower
Gemma Pesce
Claire Sng
Georgina Wolfe


1. Eswaran, V, “The business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming”, World Economic Forum website, April 2019

2. PWC, “Female Talent Report”, March 2017

3. Christiansen, L et al “Gender Diversity in Senior Positions and Firm Performance: Evidence from Europe” IMF Working  Paper No.16/50, March 2016

4. Bourke, J and Espedido, A, “Why inclusive leaders are good for organisations and how to become one”, Harvard Business Review, March 2019

5. The Lawyer website: www.thelawyer.com/btthrows-down-gauntlet-to-panel-our-mostdiverse-firm-gets-rehired-automatically ,April 2020

6. Bernile, G, “Board Diversity, Firm Risk and Corporate Policies”, Journal of Financial Economics, 2018

7. Lorenzo, R et al “How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation”, BCG.com, March 2018

8. Survey carried out by First 100 Years project, October 2019

9. Survey carried out by First 100 Years project, April to May 2020

10. Law Society England & Wales, “Influencing for Impact:the need for gender equality in the legal profession”, March 2019

11. Law Society England & Wales, “Influencing for Impact:the need for gender equality in the legal profession”, March 2019

12. Foust-Cummings, Heather et al, “Sponsoring women to success”, Catalyst, 2011

13. Gratton, L and Scott, A, “The 100 Year Life”, Bloomsbury 2018

14. Thomson Reuters/Acritas research, presented at TWILL event December 2019

15. Agarwal, P, “Not very likeable:Here is how bias is affecting women leaders”, Forbes, October 2018

16. Goleman, Daniel, “Working with Emotional Intelligence”, Bloomsbury, 1996

Download the full report

This publication has been prepared for general guidance on matters of interest only, and does not constitute professional advice.
It may be subject to change or update without notice. You should not act upon the information contained in this publication
without obtaining specific professional advice. No representation, assurance or warranty (express or implied) is given as to the
accuracy or completeness of the information or data contained in this publication, and, to the extent permitted by law, Obelisk
Legal Support Solutions Limited, its members, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability, responsibility or duty
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publication or for any decision based on it.


© Obelisk Legal Support Solutions Limited 2020

Company number: 07312074

Next 100 Years is a campaign of Spark 21 Registered charity number: 1167825

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