We spoke to Nancy Honey, creator of the powerful ‘100 Leading Ladies’ project

‘If women have someone to inspire them I think that really helps’

Nancy Honey is a renowned American photographer, who created the 100 Leading Ladies project where she photographed 100 of Britain’s most respected and influential women over the age of 55 who have defied the stereotypes, expectations and limitations of their gender to become leaders in their field.

These portraits are complimented by inspirational and insightful interviews conducted by former Times journalist Hattie Garlick. We spoke to her about her continued work to inspire young women through highlighting the achievements of older women, now leaders in their fields.

So, Nancy, what would you say you were hoping to achieve with the 100 Leading Ladies project?

When I was a young girl the main aspirations for me and my generation were to grow up and get married and have children. So, my goal was to highlight some women in my generation, often unknown to the public, who were leaders and had careers that were successful and high achieving. That was one starting point but as the project developed I realised that there were more messages.

Who would you say has been your biggest female role model?

It was a problem for me because I didn’t have one. One of my struggles growing up was that I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t have any role models to look up to for that. Many women artists were not widely known, many have since been discovered. If women have someone to inspire them I think it really helps.

Who was your favourite person to photograph and/or meet (if you had one)?

I’ve been asked this a lot but honestly there wasn’t a favourite, it would be impossible to pick one. The women I met were warm, welcoming, helpful and inspiring.

What have you personally learned from the 100 Leading Ladies project?

Meeting the women and reading what they had to say in Hattie’s interviews was so inspiring and life affirming. This is communicated throughout he book. The project took up a big chunk of my life. It challenged and stretched me and gave me more confidence personally.

If you could pick one piece of wisdom you’ve taken from the book to pass on to our young women readers, what would it be?

All the women in the book rose to their challenges, were not stopped by their failures. So, I’d say keep going and don’t take no for an answer. Looking back on my career I can always think at least I kept going and didn’t ever give up, and I can always be proud of that.

What’s next? 

Yes, I’m working on a project right now that is nearly completed. It was inspired by the 100 Leading Ladies project and is ‘Stay at Home Dads’. The 100 Leading Ladies Project highlighted the fact that one of the main stumbling blocks for women in their careers is the issue of childcare. Talking to Dads opened a lot of doors into problems such as gender stereotyping that restrict both women and men.

The decision to have a child is not made by women alone. We should allow men to raise children in their own way rather than dictating how they should parent. If as a society we want to change then one change needs to employment structures around childcare.