Alice Olins and Phanella Mayall Fine

DANIELLE NEWNHAM

Posted on April 05 2017

Today, we are talking to Alice Olins and Phanella Mayall Fine of Step Up Club, a network championing career women. These fearless founders had careers in journalism and coaching before taking the plunge to found Step Up, as well as writing the accompanying book - Step Up: Confidence, success and your stellar career in 10 mins a day. 

Here they tell us how they got started and what girl power means to them:

Newnham: What are your backgrounds and how did you meet?
Olins: Career-wise, my background is in journalism. I started as an intern at The Times fashion desk, and then stayed for 10 years. It was an incredible place to learn my trade, and has put me in great stead for everything else that my career has involved and encompassed. 

Phanella and I met many years ago through her husband - then new boyfriend - who is an old friend of mine from my teenage-dom. We used to bump into each other at parties from time to time, usually with a glass of wine in hand, and despite having very different careers that have evolved at opposite ends of the creative/corporate career spectrum (Phanella started life as a city lawyer, before moving to become a fund manager), we always ended up talking about what we do and women's careers in general.

We realised that we both felt motivated by the same desire for female empowerment in the workplace. Two years ago, we stopped talking about it and decided to launch the Step Up Club, in a bid to bring the female career conversation and its accompanying skills and community, out of the boardroom and deliver it to all women, whatever their job or stage of life. 

Mayall Fine: Our very different career backgrounds are part of what makes Step Up Club special. We’re coming at things from a general, rather than industry specific perspective. The mix of women at our events encompasses a similar spectrum and brings a diversity and creativity to our members’ networks that we believe is unique. After leaving banking (when I had my first son, now 8) I requalified in Organizational Behaviour and became an executive coach. We firmly believed that the knowledge we share on these programmes should be available to everyone… and so Step Up was born.

Newnham: As strong women, what does girl power mean to you? How do we encourage women to step up in their careers?
To us, girl power means being true to yourself and existing in a world that treats men and women equally, but not necessarily the same. We are absolutely committed to gender equality, but we also feel strongly that men and women are not the same - in general, men and women hold success differently within themselves.

Women tend to have a more nuanced and expansive notion of success, one that encompasses all facets of life. Work of course, is there within the formula, but usually for women their career wins are not the sole measure of success. With this in mind, we feel strongly and passionately that girl power means all of us working together to give success a new, and more honest meaning that is accepted by society with the same regard as money and power. How do we encourage women to Step Up in their careers? Well this feeds into this girl power conversation that we've just mentioned: and it always begins with defining your own success. You will never feel satisfied at work if you work towards someone's ideal of success. So spend time crystallising your success ideals and values and then wear them proudly.

Newnham: What has surprised you most about starting and running Step Up?Olins: Working with Phanella has been one of the biggest surprises and bonuses of my working career. It wasn't that I didn't know that she was super duper before we took the Step Up leap together, but I didn't realise how powerful - in all senses of the word - a fruitful female partnership could actually be. We support each other, have unwittingly taught each other new skills, we build the other one up on bad days and know how to celebrate together when things go right. Our friendship and respect for each other is present in everything that we do - and I think it makes Step Up feel unique, authentic and brimming with girl power! 

Mayall Fine: Ditto. One of the best things about working with a brilliant writer, is that she puts my thoughts better than I could have myself!

Newnham: What have you got planned for this year?
We have a very exciting commercial partnership in the pipeline, plus we want to set up a new offshoot for working mothers. We felt strongly when we started that as two working mothers ourselves, we didn't want Step Up to get pigeonholed so that it could only speak to parents. Now, two years and one book later, we're ready to expand that side of our business.

Newnham: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourselves at the start of your careers?
Olins: Have confidence in yourself. It's simple but so true. Especially when we are young, our youth often feels like a stumbling block - a hurdle to confidence. Sure, you don't have the experience in your back pocket, but at at the beginning of your career you aren't jaded, you're often brimming with ideas and are able to look at old problems with fresh, inspired eyes. It takes confidence to see this and act on it; I hid behind my youth, but I needn't have done. So I'd say, have self-belief, whatever stage you're at. 

Mayall Fine: Unlike Alice, I wasn’t lucky enough to find the right career for me first time. It has taken a few attempts and each time I have shied away from going back to the beginning, feeling I was too old. Each change built on the career that had gone before - finance law to banking to coaching in financial services organisations. But I now know I couldn’t have been more wrong. So my advice would be that it is never too late to change paths. If you have a passion and a skill set that works in a different area, then be bold and give it a go. I never could have imagined that work could be as fun as it is for me now but I might have discovered that a lot sooner if I had just taken more risks. 

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