Standing for change: being the voice for women in law

Obelisk Support CEO & Founder Dana Denis-Smith has received the honour of being elected to serve on the Law Society (TLS) Council to represent women in law. Having seen first-hand the dedication and perseverance of Dana’s worth ethic when it comes to the challenges women face in the legal industry, the team at Obelisk could not be prouder of the news and cannot wait to see her ideas for change become a reality.

We sat down with Dana to discuss her new position in Council and how she will drive forward the cultural change women in law need to see.

What inspired you to stand for TLS Council?

“I have been an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, building Obelisk Support on the foundation of human first, for example, for a long time now. Consequently, that passion for equal rights has driven my purpose and inspired the creation of the First 100 Years Project, powered by our charity arm Spark21, a ground-breaking history project, supported by the Law Society, Bar Council and CILEx, charting the journey of women in law since 1919.”

Making the difference

“After deciding to get involved more closely with my professional organisation – the Law Society – I was, luckily, voted in to join the Law Society Council, as a member representing women lawyers. I believe this appointment will allow me the opportunity to shape the strategy and be involved in the future of the legal profession from a different position. Undoubtedly, council will be a good forum to explore how we put innovative ideas into place.

While we have made great strides in evolving the legal industry into one that provides women with the same entry opportunity as men, we still hear reports of injustice and discrimination in the workplace. Having a good understanding of how we can achieve a more equal and inclusive legal profession is something I have worked hard to promote within the community. However, I always find myself wondering “Have I done enough?”.

Possessing the platform to represent women lawyers and put some of my ideas into action was too great of an opportunity to miss. I decided to throw my hat into the mix – I was one of 27 women competing for the 5 council seats – and kept my fingers crossed.”

What ambitions and goals do you have as TLS Council member?

“At the core of my work as a TLS Council member, I want to ensure that women in law have the opportunity and confidence to have their voices heard throughout the industry. Furthermore, if a woman lawyer is affected by inequality or discrimination, I want them to be assured that they have a trusted community of fellow lawyers that strive to put an end to that same injustice. I will stand to be a voice for ALL women in law.

Having worked closely with our professional body at Obelisk Support and the Next 100 Years to champion and advance women in law at all levels of seniority and stages of their law career, I have the experience and knowledge to advise how best to bring about equality and inclusivity in the legal industry. My goal is to see these ideas come to fruition and drive further the cultural progression we have seen over the years.

Additionally, I am keen to investigate how we can bring about change in the gender pay gap to make sure we are not waiting 80+ years for this to correct itself. This topic is explored further in my piece for LexisNexis, ‘The gender pay gap in the legal sector: where do we go from here?’.”

How has your experience within the legal industry influenced your decision to stand as TLS Council representative for Women Lawyer’s?

“Throughout my life I have always had a passion for equal rights and access to justice instilled into me by my parents, who were not highly educated but had huge integrity. They felt justice was a route to better outcomes even for those that might not be able to use their voice. Following experiencing life at the “magic circle”, I decided to become an entrepreneur.

On a trip to India I was inspired by the idea behind Obelisk Support- it was simple: we could create opportunities to work in the legal sector for individuals needing to juggle life and work to work hours that suit their life, through outsourcing. With so many people being pushed out by the culture of billable hours and presenteeism of traditional firms, I was keen Obelisk provided a different route and way of working that worked for people’s lives.”

The breakthrough

“Obelisk’s first breakthrough project with the BBC did not come at the best of time. I had to juggle a new-born baby while meeting the demands of the project which made me realise that I had to get more lawyers involved and focus on managing the business rather than doing the work to stand a chance of scaling the business. It was at that time I met a senior employee at Goldman Sachs who “just got it: she was a mother of three kids with a pile of complicated derivatives documents. Thankfully, she carved out a project and gave us a shot. Since then, my “mums’ army” has grown from strength to strength.

Seeing the change, we can bring about through Obelisk Support, it felt natural to apply what I have learnt throughout my career to help further women in law. Standing as a representative for Women’s Lawyers on TLS Council gives me the platform drive the change I have been working towards.

If you would like to learn more about my career journey, you can read my Sunday Times profile: ‘My mums’ army is out to shake up the legal profession’.”

As a leading woman in law and the CEO and Founder of Obelisk Support, what keeps you motivated to continue advocating for equality and diversity within the legal profession?

“Entering the legal industry, I had a goal of helping to create the cultural shift needed for women lawyers. Throughout my journey, I have often found myself questioning what else I could do; how could I be the change I want to see?

Keeping me motivated to continue is seeing the drive of change in the legal industry and having the responsibility of using my platform to support this change further. Similarly, I am also motivated by the injustices that still need to be acknowledged and recognise there is still much work left to do.

Furthermore – I am a parent. I have a daughter and we owe it to her generations and those coming behind her to ensure they are not facing obstacles that we should have tackled and done away with a long time ago. Through championing more women in senior leadership positions, we invest in the next generation of female leaders by establishing role models that they relate to and can learn from.”

Any concluding thoughts?

“It was wonderful to see progress in equality for women event in this competition – none of the 27 women who stood for the 5 council seats would have been admitted as a solicitor 100 years ago today – the first generation came in in December 1922. I am in awe of all those women who chose to stand providing inspirational stories and being so committed to drive change. Looking to the future, I hope we will collaborate to create the difference we wish to see.

Equally, I am looking forward to working with all the other members of Council, the incoming president Lubna Shuja, my fellow Women’s Lawyers Council members Hannah Beko, Helen Chen, Karen Bexley and Danielle Cohen, and staff. Additionally, I would also like to recognise and thank the outgoing president, Stephanie Boyce, for her ongoing work for women in law.”

Thank you

“Finally, I would like to say a massive THANK YOU to all those who voted for me. Thank you for placing your trust in me. Truly, it is a privilege to be a voice for all women in these changing times.”

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