The Step Up Duo
Phanella, Executive Coach and Development Consultant and Alice, Fashion Journalist, are as busy as every other working woman. Between them, they share four jobs and five children and understand first-hand that women need advice and they need it quickly.
In 2016, they launched The Step Up Club; a fresh new voice in the women’s career conversation, here to celebrate all women – whatever your job. Through stylish events, online content and a newsletter, The Step Up Club is designed to make women feel empowered, boost skill sets and broaden networks. Alice and Phanella sit at either ends of the creative/corporate spectrum: they know that it’s just as valid to aspire to career contentment, as it is to want to become your company’s next CEO.
They launched their book, Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day last year, the must-have work life handbook for every woman in every profession, whether creative, entrepreneurial or corporate.
The pair have made it their mission to make taking solid strides in your career that little bit easier. Their book, ‘Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 minutes a Day’, is the ultimate guide on how to lean in professionally while being realistic about how much time you have to dedicate each day. Confidence is at the root of what they do and through both their book and open events, they are providing women with a framework for how to create a personal and professional life that they love on their own terms. When we caught up, we spoke about their respective journeys and how they got to where they are now, the challenges they’ve faced along the way, the advice they have for women on networking, the importance of self-care, how to overcome imposter syndrome and the fear of failure.
Alice’s background in fashion
Alice: Before I launched Step Up with Phanella, I was – and still am – a fashion journalist. I cut my teeth at The Times, where I worked for ten incredible years. I still feel fortunate to have been able to learn my trade, build lasting team working skills and understand how to channel the buzz of a breaking story into great written content at such a prestigious and pioneering publication.
After The Times, I went on to become the Fashion Features Director at British Marie Claire, where I also helped launched its inaugural Marie Claire Runway biannual, and have recently finished an amazing stint at Red, where I am still a Contributing Editor. I also write across all women’s issues, health, beauty and interiors. For me, writing is my creative outlet – a medium where I can express myself most fully and explore subjects and meet people who would otherwise have remained out of reach.
Phanella cut her teeth in law
Phanella: As far back as I can remember, I had wanted to be a lawyer. When I finished Oxford and law school, the next natural step was a big training contract at a corporate law firm. I worked as a finance lawyer at Slaughter and May and Linklaters in London and Davis Polk in New York before realising I wanted to move closer to the deals on which we were advising. JPMorgan offered me a job as a portfolio manager on their European equity funds and sponsored me through my CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst qualification). It was exciting, varied and intellectually challenging – everything I had been looking for.
When I had my first child (I now have 3), I realised I wanted more flexibility. I requalified with a Masters in Organisational Behaviour (Career Management and Counselling) and, thanks to my background, started coaching training for banks and law firms around the world. I have always been fascinated by diversity at work and this became the focus of both my postgrad research and corporate work. Like Alice, I still split my time between this ‘other role’ and Step Up although as we do more and more Step Up work with brands and corporates who are trying to engage and retain their staff, the two increasingly merge together.
“We’re all time-poor and when you start piling on the additional work – endless networking drinks, daily self-promotion – it can feel daunting at best.”
How they first met & what sparked them to join forces
Alice: We’ve known each other since our early twenties, just when our respective careers were starting to form. We would often see each other at parties and always end up talking about our shared passion: feminism and the role of women at work. Increasingly we saw that our peers and Phanella’s clients were looking for support, advice and inspiration in their careers that they just weren’t finding elsewhere and we decided to do something about it. Step Up was born with our first event 18 months ago, attended by 70 women made up of friends and contacts of friends; out of that has come everything else.
The power of making small, easy changes to propel your career
Phanella: We’re all time-poor and when you start piling on the additional work – endless networking drinks, daily self-promotion – it can feel daunting at best. Yet we know that if you just spend a small amount of time – 10 minutes each day – on career related behaviours, as opposed to your day to day tasks, the benefits to your career will be exponential. We wanted to make these seemingly impossible tasks achievable by making them bite-sized, women can work their career even if they can only find 10 minutes a day. The workouts in the book are practical but enjoyable too and each one has been chosen to be as effective as possible in that short space of time.
“We like to refer to values as the hashtags of our lives: we can’t get away from social media, but we can let it help guide us towards our own success.”
What doesn’t break you makes you stronger
Alice: We all attempt things at work that we aren’t able to pull off. We make mistakes. We take a wrong turn. Work is pitted with ups and downs, but failure needn’t be a dirty word. What doesn’t break you makes you stronger; it’s a cliché but it’s true. The reason that failure is so important to confidence is because one cannot happen without the other. Risk, the springboard to failure, necessitates confidence. And then there’s the actual fail and what you learn from your mistake. Both feel uncomfortable while you’re in the process, but failure pushes you forward.
Knit one, purl one: risk and failure are interlinked loops on the same piece of knitting. A successful career woman needs to be able to look failure in the mouth and not be scared of a bite. Failing is a process: it’s a journey from idea, via risk assessment, through action and eventually to the dreaded faux pas. Yes you have failed; your ego is wounded, but you have grown a little stronger and more confident by just riding that wave.
Why comparison is the ultimate confidence killer
Phanella: It is hard, when Instagram and similar feeds are bursting with edited images of life perfection from all corners of the world. It takes a mind of steel to remain completely unmoved by this – but as we say at the start of our book, finding success – and when we talk about success, we do so with a view to all facets of life – is about celebrating our own uniqueness and not allowing ourselves to have the lives of others impressed upon us negatively. Sure, it’s brilliant if other women inspire us to reach our own goals, but it is also important that we stay true to our own beliefs and values, which is why we spend a lot of time helping readers – and attendees at our events – unearth theirs. We like to refer to values as the hashtags of our lives: we can’t get away from social media, but we can let it help guide us towards our own success.
“We aren’t saying: ‘You should achieve this’, we are saying ‘What do you want to achieve? Let us help you get there.”
The strategies they use to develop confidence in the workplace
Phanella: We feel passionately that confidence is an integral part of career success, fulfilment and enjoyment. Confidence turns our thoughts into actions, it is the emotional driver that we hold within ourselves and women do tend to struggle more acutely with confidence levels. Why? Because our internal thoughts, the ones that make us empathetic, kind, unique and brilliant, also have the capacity to hold us down. Who hasn’t succumbed to the voice inside their heads that says we aren’t good enough, or that that other person is much more capable?
Of course, everyone has these thoughts but when we allow them to feel comfortable within our heads – when we let the proverbial devil dwell for too long – it has a negative impact on how we feel, how we function and in turn, how others respond to us too. Confidence is not innate, which means that we all have the capacity to change our internal rhetoric and in turn, build our confidence. In our book, we explore fully the practical tips that you can employ to also improve your confidence levels from the outside in. Neither will happen overnight, but if you can break the negative belief cycles that dictate your thoughts, and implement some positive physical changes – standing bigger, speaking more slowly and taking the time to really listening, all of us can become a more confident, self-assured version of your current self.
On what makes their book special and where the idea came from
Alice: We are big fans of many of the career books that are out there but we wanted to offer something more practical – something you can pick up and really learn how to deal with a specific issue at work in a realistic amount of time – that was also written in an engaging way. Unlike many of the books that are out there, ours isn’t focussed on getting onto the board if that isn’t your bag. It’s about finding your own definition of career success and pursuing that in the most effective way you can. We speak to a wide range of women across industries and aspirations. We aren’t saying: “you should achieve this”, we are saying “what do you want to achieve? Let us help you get there.”
The original idea for the book actually came from an email Phanella received from a partner in a law firm in Columbia. She had seen one of Phanella’s online women’s leadership courses and wanted to learn more. We searched for something to recommend and couldn’t find anything with the right blend of research based content, high quality advice and readability – our book was born.
“You never know where connections will happen and some of our best bits of work have come from our oldest contacts.”
How they’ve grown and nurtured relationships over the years
Phanella: I’ve had such a range of jobs over my career. Some are so disparate it might seem that my old legal contacts, for example, would be less useful now I’m so focused on Step Up. But you never know where connections will happen and some of our best bits of work have come from our oldest contacts. For that reason, I am really careful to nurture the contacts I have from across all the industries I’ve worked in.
Keeping up with such a wide range of people isn’t always simple, but one of my favourite hacks is to be conscious about what crosses your desk. Every time I read an interesting article or hear a new piece of research, for example, I think of one contact I haven’t spoken to in a while who might be interested too. It takes just a few seconds to send across a link in a quick catch up email, meanwhile the recipient is reminded I’m there and I know I’ll be at the forefront of their mind if a relevant opportunity comes up.