Interview with from Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins from the Step Up Club

Read how an executive coach specialising in women’s careers (Phanella Mayall Fine) and a fashion journalist (Alice Olins) teamed up to launch the brilliant Step Up Club.

What are your career backgrounds?

We think that one of Step Up’s unique selling points is that we – Phanella and Alice – sit at opposite ends of the career spectrum.

As an executive coach specialising in women’s careers, this includes female leadership and maternity coaching, and by way of two previous jobs in corporate law and equity funds at JPMorgan, Phanella is definitely on the corporate side of our Step Up equation.

Whereas Alice, a fashion journalist with ten years experience at The Times and now the Fashion Features Director at Red Magazine, is Step Up’s creative.

Despite hailing from such divergent career paths, we are united in our values and goals. Both of us feel passionately that we want our book [Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in Ten Minutes a Day; Random House] and career club to help women enjoy more meaningful and fulfilling careers.

Primarily, we do this by supporting women to uncover their own unique definition of success and by building confidence – because when we are heading to towards goals that resonate, and we do it with confidence and self-assurance, careers become endlessly enjoyable and gratifying.


How have your careers changed as mothers?

Practically speaking, motherhood is now at the heart of how we work. Since having children, we have both adapted how we approach our day jobs – and now Step Up too – to work as harmoniously as possible with being hands on mothers.

We both enjoy full careers and work flexibly. And we strive, although we don’t always manage (!), to balance work and home. Our attitude to work has also changed since we’ve had children. Although time is scarcer, in many ways we are more driven.

When we interviewed, Kirsty Young for our book, she said something that really resonated:

“If I’m going to leave this tiny person in the care of someone else, I’d better be doing something that I really love and am good at. Strangely, having children has made me a lot more focused and ruthless in the choices I make in my career.”

And how have YOU changed?

Phanella: My identity is so tied up with my work and for that reason, things shifted for me when I had my children. I am less defined by my achievements – an amazing moment with my kids is just as valuable as a book deal, for example – and, I think, that makes me more comfortable with who I am.

But at my core, I’m still the same person. Driven, feminist, practical, caring, energetic. I just do it all less perfectly and at a much faster pace to fit everything in!

Alice: On a practical level, having children has made me a better manager of others – there is nothing like coping with a tantrum in public to help build your empathy/patience/communication skills. So my children have certainly helped develop a new side to my business manner; emotionally speaking, they inspire me.

Because I have two daughters, I am acutely aware that I am their first female role model. I want them to go into their adult lives feeling stronger, independent and open to opportunities, and as such, I try to be that woman for them today.

Work gives me personal satisfaction; with this in my back pocket, I am better placed to kick back and enjoy family life when I’m in Mummy mode.

What inspired you to start the Step Up Club?

Women’s careers aren’t just in the ether, they’re on the front pages of newspapers, inside glossy magazines, on the radio, across the internet and they’re being discussed on a daily basis in governments all around the world.

We looked around us and saw the conversation but felt it was in many ways limited – how do you smash the glass ceiling? How do we get more female CEOs?

Don’t get us wrong, we’re one hundred per cent behind having more women at the top. But what if success for you isn’t in the corporate boardroom? We wanted to broaden the conversation across industries and goals, helping women to find career success as themselves.

What is the Step Up Club, and how do you help women?

The Step Up Club is a space for women to come together to celebrate and drive their careers. Through our stylish monthly events, online content and fortnightly newsletter, we strive to make our members feel empowered, boost their skill set and broaden their network.


What do you think holds most women back today?

Something that we feel very passionate about is flexible working. Society currently centres this conversation solely around mothers. And that is hugely damaging to gender equality – and working women as a whole.

If we continue to just talk about flexible working as being a woman’s issue then we continue to feed the barriers against women. We strongly believe that women and men will benefit when flexible working becomes the norm and extends to everyone. This is undoubtedly a key message and change that Step Up is pushing for.

As well as the conversation around flexible working, within companies and industries there is still a huge amount of bias. Much of it is unconscious, but senior people – usually white men – still hire (and mentor) in their own image. Transparency around promotions and openness to seeing leadership in many different ways is also crucial if women are going to succeed.

The final barrier lies with women ourselves. We are chronically less confident than men and that infects everything from our ambition to our ability to self-promote.

If we could help alter and improve these three career barriers, then the workplace would be a more positive place for women.

And how can they overcome it?

For us, confidence is the key to change. Yes it’s a generalisation, but in the main, many women don’t fulfil their personal potential, because we succumb to the insecurities that constantly flick through our minds.

Because of this, we are big fans of reinforcing positive belief and in our book there is a 10-step confidence plan that will boost self-belief and drive change across a whole career.

Who inspires you?

We find inspiration all around us – we don’t have one role model or mentor. The women we interviewed for the book and meet through Step Up are all so different: it’s inspiring to see success in so many different brilliant female forms.

When we receive emails from readers telling us how the book or events have touched them, that’s also incredibly motivating. The knowledge that what we are doing is really touching people and making a difference spurs us on.

Where would you love to see Step Up Club in five years’ time?

We’re big fans of career planning but it has to be fluid to leave room for the future. We know we want things to grow, definitely a second book (we already have one up our sleeves) and a way of reaching more women directly – we already have plans to get out of London and eventually build our online presence too.

If we are still making a personal difference to people but many more of them, that would feel successful.

What’s your best kick-up-the-bum career advice for women?

You’re not lucky, you’re awesome. Women are much more likely to attribute success to chance, men to their innate brilliance. This is a case where it’s right to borrow from the boys. Take ownership of your brilliance and recognise that we all create our own luck.

You can read more about the Step Up Club on their website, and buy their book from Amazon