Going Against the Grain with Michelle Last
Partner @ Keystone Law
Michelle is a skilled and highly-ranked partner who specialises in employment law and employment litigation at Keystone Law. She has worked on numerous reported and high profile cases. A regular contributor to the press and legal journals, Michelle has been published in The Times, Financial Times, Employment Law Journal, CIPD and The Lawyer, as well as being featured on BBC Radio.
When thinking about gender equality in the workplace, what have you seen as the biggest catalysts of change in this area from when you started your career?
I believe the biggest change that has helped the discussion around equality in recent years has been the #MeToo movement. The movement’s dramatic rise and impact, as opposed to a more gradual shift in behaviour, has helped drive change quicker in many professions. People are more conscious of how they act around others because of the real consequences that exist today. This was sadly lacking in the past.
Do you believe there are quick wins in the equality debate?
One clear change to make is to have CVs without names. I see this as a growing mandate for many companies as they look to have a more inclusive approach to hiring. By taking names off CVs, it automatically removes a potential avenue for prejudice and bias - and not just for gender but for minority groups as well.
What were some of the obstacles you faced and how were you able to overcome them?
I think the key to overcoming a lot of obstacles, in a professional sense, is taking real control of your career and finding a place that fits with you.
The fantastic thing about being at Keystone Law, and it’s quite akin to being a freelancer, is that if you are good at something, you can back yourself, because you’re not held back by the people in the corporate organisation you’re a part of. I’m able to create my own destiny and it’s the quality of the work that I do that has the ultimate control on my success.
Since I found a place in which I could thrive, I’ve seen my career go from strength to strength. Those things would not have happened, or at least not nearly as quickly, had I not taken control of my own career.
What advice would you give to new professionals beginning their careers?
Treat people like you want to be treated. My personal mantra is “get what you give” and because of this, I’ve been able to rise above a lot of obstacles that have stood in the way of how I want to live my life and further my career.
This philosophy has also helped me in building my own network right from the very beginning to the present day, as the people who I’m connected with and have crossed paths with can attest to how I operate and have supported me along the way. Your network has a huge impact on your career. So build it with strong foundations.
Get what you give.
How have you juggled personal goals alongside professional ones?
I think it’s important to have a long-term mindset. Some decisions may look attractive in the moment, especially if you are in a difficult position within your current role, but think about the longer-term.
In my experience, women in particular often look to make drastic changes in response to life events or difficulties at work, without necessarily thinking long term. A classic situation being where a woman has a baby and decides to stay at home. A critical piece of advice I once received was from a friend who was on maternity leave and looking to return to work as quickly as possible. Even though childcare was more expensive than what she was going to earn by returning to work, her rationale was focused on the longer-term vision of maintaining her career, or to simply have options after her children went off to school. Having followed this advice and now my children are older, I am reaping the benefits of having juggled my personal and professional life in those early years and my children are reaping the benefits of having a happier and more fulfilled parent and role model.
What makes a great mentor?
I have had various mentors along the way, depending on where I was at in my life and career.
I feel very privileged to be a mentor to a few people. For me, it’s about listening to them and finding out about what’s going on in that individual’s life, and then my wisdom is about helping them reflect on matters with a long-term mindset and see perspectives they might not have otherwise thought about.
When looking for a mentor I think you need to see a bit of yourself in your mentor and see some similarities between what they have achieved and where your own aspirations are. Critically, you have to be able to resonate with how that person achieved those successes.
I'm able to create my own destiny and it’s the quality of the work that I do that has the ultimate control on my success.
The 2021 For Everyone Report
Freelancers are doing work that will be seen by billions of people. So, as an industry, we have a duty to ensure that we’re creating work that influences a culture we are proud of. And even if we at YunoJuno can’t affect the work that gets made, we can highlight where there is room to level the playing field by showcasing great talent regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, or beliefs. In doing so, we can help the freelance community and client network logging on to YunoJuno access to a talent pool as diverse as the people they will influence.
This is the motivation behind this report and we are proud to champion equality in every way. For everyone.
Check out the report