Dawn Heels – “Take life day by day!”

In this #YesSheCan blog, we talk to Dawn Heels, a Senior Legal Counsel and a digital content creator. Dawn talks to us about she’s grown in her career journey, the challenges she’s overcome and beaten and how she keeps motivated to work on her passions.

Can you tell us a bit about you and your career? 

I am an In-House Senior Legal Counsel (commercial law) who works for an international pharma/bio-tech company, where we make life-saving treatments for patients.  My career in law spans well over 10 years, where I started out in litigation but made the decision to leave that behind, move in-house and enjoy a more ‘mixed bag’ role.

What does a typical day in your career look like?

A commercial, in-house lawyer can typically expect any legal issue to come into the office on a day to day basis.  However, a bulk of the work is business to business contract negotiation.

What made you choose this career/industry/line of work? 

I chose this career because I was deeply moved by the murders of Stephen Lawrence and James Bulger.  I wanted to make a difference and therefore, my aim was to become a criminal lawyer. 

However, a few years of working in litigation and I was given the advice to move into a more commercial role, which I have not regretted.  I make a difference outside of work, by helping women reach their potential in health, wealth and careers, so I’m fulfilled.

How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?

I took the very traditional educational route into law (a route that is very different this present day); I undertook a degree and masters in law and then the Bar.

The MAIN challenges didn’t come until after becoming a lawyer, i.e. when I started working.

As an ambitious woman, there were some places where I could not progress my career because others did not want me to progress, then in another company, where I had managed to progress my career to head up a legal department, I encountered workplace bullies.

If any, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?

In the place where I encountered workplace bullies, I ironically had 2 amazing mentors who gave me career advice on how to quickly progress up in that company and then progress out. 

This enabled me to gain the skill set I needed for the role I wanted to move into and work for a much better company.

“I wanted to make a difference.”

What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?

When I firmly decided that I was going to study law during my sixth form years, my sixth form tutor asked me… “why don’t you just work your way up through H&M?”.  H&M was my Saturday job I had at the time and respectfully, I never wanted to work in retail.

Her words never left me and her lack of encouragement and help to help me pursue this career, has driven me to get to where I’ve got to.

What’s great about being a female in your role?

Filling the spaces where men would typically sit.  Careers such as law needs more diversity in every sense of the word.

What is your biggest achievement in life?

Being able to face forward when people try and hinder your chances in life.

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?

Focus, drive and determination will get you everywhere.

Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?

Yes.  I have felt on many occasions, that my voice is unwelcomed in a room full of men.

I remember yelling in a meeting a few years ago that they were failing to listen to me and my points are valid! They were shocked to see someone standing up and challenging their position.

“Focus, drive and determination will get you everywhere.”

Outside your work, what are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?

I’ve always been creative, so I have both a YouTube channel and Instagram page where I share advice and guidance to women who want to attain their very best in life.

I absolutely love helping people and it’s so rewarding to hear from people when they’ve made steps towards their ultimate goals.

I have recently started an initiative called The Guidance Suite which holds regular events to help women in all capacities.

Do you have a mantra you live your life by?

Take life day by day.

What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?

  1. Make sure you’re entering something you truly care about;
  2. Undertake work experience in that field before making final decisions;
  3. Don’t be scared about changing your career in life if it’s simply not for you; life is too short.


What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given and by who? 

It was more of a career direction piece of advice.  I was advised to enter either tech or pharma; I ran with pharma and haven’t looked back.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

My mum.  A very hard working woman whose mantra is “hard work doesn’t kill you; not looking after yourself will”.

She has been very supportive of all of my career moves and has been a mega shoulder to cry on when it’s got all too much.

What are your key motivators?

Undertaking meaningful work, having strong leadership and culture.

“I absolutely love helping people and it’s so rewarding to hear from people when they’ve made steps towards their ultimate goals.”

Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?

Things are being done but not fast enough.  This conversation has been ongoing for years now.

What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?

Be known within your organisation and that doesn’t mean be known with arrogance.  Also, join groups outside of your department that you maybe into, whether social or otherwise.  For instance,  I am part of the diversity and inclusion initiative at work.

What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?

Seek a mentor within a leadership position at work. 

What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?

Patience.  Not everyone is going to understand the direction, but you’ve got to explain, convince and show the best path.

What would you say to your 16-year-old self?

Someone who you thought would help you, will not but don’t worry, you just do what you’ve made up your mind to do.  PUSH!

If you could do anything differently in your career, what would it be?

You are where you are supposed to be, so I wouldn’t do anything differently.

You can learn more about Dawn and follow her work by clicking on the links below:
Dawn Heel’s Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/dawn_heels/?hl=en
Guidance Suite Instagram – www.instagram.com/guidancesuite 
 Dawn Heels  YouTube Channel – www.youtube.com/c/whatdawndidinheels 
If you’re interested in reading more about a career in the legal you can read Nikki Aston’s blog here or look through all of our legal career stories here

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