There’s a new wave of women empowering and inspiring females and Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins, Founders of The Step Up Club, are experts when it comes to confidence and careers. With their ‘Ten Minute Career Workouts’ they’re showing us how to balance priorities and work toward greater success, no matter how busy we are. We caught up with them to find out about their new book and most valuable career advice…
Tell us about the book, how did it come to light?
It was inspired by the career events we host as part of the Step Up Club. Our USP for both is simple: practical, helpful and succinct career advice packaged up stylishly. In terms of the events, this means we always host in modern, exciting spaces, and replace the classic panel format with something fresher and more youthful. From the off, the response has been amazing, and our Step Up Club attendees always seem to ask us to recommend a career manual. What we realised quickly, was that there wasn’t anything that touched our unique Step Up cornerstones, so we decided to write that book ourselves.
It’s been coined the ‘Lean In for the Instagram generation’. Do you agree?
When we first met Ebury, our publishers, they likened the meeting to when they bought Lean In. Although we are completely different both in message and tone, Sheryl Sandberg did such a huge amount to raise awareness of the issues around women and work so we were obviously thrilled with the comparison.
You’ve got some great women in the book that really capture the zeitgeist from the Hemsley sisters to the late Zaha Hadid. Was it important for you to get advice from a breadth of women?
Absolutely. Although the book is grounded in hours of practice and research, it’s important to bring that advice to life through real stories – to add colour to the guidance. We were careful to pick women who inspire us, and who we know will inspire our readers too. As a group, their careers touch nearly every industry going, and their insight, stories, anecdotes and humour add another layer to the book. The interviews themselves were one of our book writing highlights, and we know our readers are just as fascinated by the lives of these high profile women, as we are.
What kind of woman will the book appeal to?
We initially wrote the book with a specific woman in mind. Like us, she is serious about her career, but values her personal life too. She is stylish. She is friendly. She is in her early to mid career and is looking to take the next step, whether that’s getting promoted, changing career or starting a business. Whatever the industry she’s in, she’s likely to want to build her confidence, balance her priorities and learn to lead in an authentic way. We know now that while this describes our core audience, the range of women who say they’ve been touched by the book is far wider: from Phanella’s nineteen year old cousin to a journalist in her fifties who told us she was using it as her career bible.
The essence of the book is the daily ten minute ‘workouts’. Tell us about those?
The Ten Minute Career Workouts are an essential part of the book. They allow the reader to take the advice and inspiration and implement it practically into their every day lives – no matter how busy she is. Each chapter contains five, ten minute workouts; we were inspired to include these short, sharp practical bursts because 1. We’re as busy as the next woman. And 2. We’re both high intensity gym class fanatics. We believe there is nothing, within your career, that you can’t improve over one week, in ten minutes a day.
You’re both working mothers. How do you balance work and motherhood?
This is a question we’re often asked and sometimes we feel we’re only just coping! With two jobs each and five kids between us, we rely on a mixture of childcare, family support and our partnership – when one of us is feeling the strain, the other picks up the slack and vice versa. Doing this alone would be impossible. Together it’s not necessarily easy, but it’s manageable and exhilarating.
Best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Phanella: Tamara Box who we interviewed for the book talked about the Broken Cookie Syndrome. She described how, as women, we’re conditioned to always take the broken cookie. Allowing others to take plum opportunities ahead of us and always putting ourselves last. As a mother, this is something I particularly relate to. At work, she said, taking the broken cookie isn’t prudent. You need to put yourself forward on an equal footing to others and don’t accept second best. I remind myself of that whenever I’m tempted to allow myself to take second best at work.
Alice: My father recently retired, and after so many years in business, he decided to have his Top Ten Tips, printed up as cards to hand around his industry. On this list is one piece of advice that really resonates with me: accept and act on constructive criticism. As a journalist, my work is laid bare for all to critique. I found this difficult at the start of my career, and have spent plenty of my emotional energy building up the confidence to be able to listen, learn and improve. I can’t say I’ve achieved this completely – I have a wobble, like everyone else now and again – but I’ve learnt to hear criticism fairly and use it to my advantage.
And the worst?
Phanella: When I was unhappy in my legal career in my mid-twenties, many people around me said that having invested time in law school and training, it was too late to change. I was adamant though and moved into fund management at 27. But I do remember thinking, “I have to build on what I’ve done before. I’m far too old to go back to the beginning again.” With hindsight that was wrong. I changed again – to coaching – but always building on previous careers by staying in the corporate world. I now strongly believe that the view that it’s too late to change career is fundamentally wrong and so completely limiting. As long as you have a plan, it’s never too late and you can always find skills that transfer to give you the edge over younger people in your new environment.
Alice: That fashion is a fool’s game. However shallow it sounds, fashion is my language – it’s my creative outlet, and it’s been my career best friend since I first started at The Times, aged 24. What I’m trying to say, is that to enjoy a meaningful career, we must all stay true to our passion – no matter want anyone else says. Fashion has brought me many career gains, and ultimately delivered me to this book – and The Step Up Club (Step Up is not a natural environment for a fashion journalist, but Phanella has schooled me well in careers!) Fashion has given me a voice and a career that is diverse, fun and endlessly rewarding.
If there’s a takeaway from the book for our readers what would it be?
That everyone can feel confident and successful in their own career.
What did you learn from writing the book?
That we can conquer challenges, like holding down day jobs with several young children and writing a 100,000 word book too! Working in partnership also forces you to be realistic and honest about your strengths and weaknesses so that you can work effectively – so the book has made us more self-aware. Finally, it’s given us confidence. We’ve both had to put ourselves into arenas where we are less comfortable – Phanella with writing and Alice with public speaking – and each time we are forced out of our comfort zones and don’t fail horribly, it gives us a boost.
Favourite Ten Minute Career Workout to share with our readers?
CONFIDENCE WORKOUT: Dare to Disagree:
Prepare: Grab a taxi. Nowhere to go? Walk into your local artisan coffee shop. Anywhere an in depth chat is on the menu. Best leave friends and work colleagues out of this one. You’ll see why soon.
Take aim: Strike up conversation. Lead the taxi driver/barista/innocent victim into talking on a current issue or opinion. Russell Brand’s politics, the EU referendum, Chris Evans on Top Gear. The topic doesn’t matter as long as they have a point of view.
Fire: Now for the hard part. Unleash your inner American and disagree. They want Greece out of the Eurozone? Your soapbox issue is keeping them in. Whatever they say, whatever your true feelings, take the opposite position. This is about getting comfortable with speaking out. And learning to disagree, even as an academic exercise, is a great place to start.