STYLIST: The Art of Leaning Back

For last week's Stylist, Helen Russell, Author of The Year of Living Danishly, spoke to us about why it's okay to take a work break. 

The art of leaning back: why it’s time to redefine what success looks like


We’ve tried leaning in, but more and more of us are realising that our personal definition of success has nothing to do with getting that corner office. Perhaps, argues Helen Russell, it’s time for a new approach

I have tried leaning in. God knows, I’ve tried. At times I’ve leaned so far, I’ve keeled over. But you know what? Leaning back is the way forward for 2017.

As a woman in my 30s, I have for a while now been told to Take Over The World – juggle a career with a relationship; launch an internet-breaking lifestyle vlog; learn coding and practise Pilates daily – all while producing a couple of children and living in a huge house somewhere leafy with a photogenic dog, of course. And yes, I spent years in a Big Shiny Job climbing the ladder, while simultaneously attempting to tick off all the other stuff too (have a social life, overcome insomnia and eat more kale) because I’d been conditioned to believe that’s what successful people do. Only after a while, it started feeling less like a recipe for success, and more like a nagging failure to dominate anything, never mind the world.


So one night a few years ago, after a large glass of wine, I decided to take a break from my quest to ‘get to the top’ and to move work off the number one slot on my priority list for a while. My other half had been offered his dream job in Denmark, which gave me the motivation to take some time to reassess my ambitions and focus on what might make me happier than my singular goal to be the boss had ever done. I’d given 12 long years of slogging away to getting ahead – and I still didn’t feel like the destination was clear.

Some people thought I was mad. After all I wasn’t far off the much lauded top rungs of that ladder. However, a couple of friends confessed that they’d also been tempted to take the leap and lean back for a while too, but fear of the unknown and other people’s expectations held them back. I knew this feeling well. But taking a step back was the breather I needed to think about what I actually wanted (creative fulfilment, a more balanced life, a chance to pursue my passions) rather than what I’d been conditioned to want (money, prestige and linear advancement in a company). My career has taken a curvier path since then, but I’m happier, more fulfilled, solvent and sane these days. And since I leant back, I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one reconsidering what a successful life really looks like. Increasing numbers of women are demanding more than a one-note existence with work at front and centre.

Read more: Want to get paid to travel the world in style? There’s just one little catch…

Never mind Generation Y, we are Generation WW (Wonder Woman): educated, driven and brought up to believe that to have it all, we must do it all. Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 seminal bestseller Lean In encouraged women to reach for the top jobs, insisting that a larger number of us in leadership roles would mean more opportunities for all. “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small,” she wrote, “by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” Her words echoed those of our mothers, our headmistresses, and so, with good intentions, many of us charged ahead towards a 24/7 corporate career of networking and achieving. But now more of us are wondering, is this really what modern women want? Because, let’s face it, if the definition of success in the Eighties was about power suits and a corner office, the Noughties championed entrepreneurs then right now the focus is undoubtedly on wellbeing and self-fulfilment and it’s unlikely you can achieve that if you spend 13 hours a day at your desk. We want a career on our own terms and if it doesn’t exist already, instead of forcing ourselves to fit into the very structured corporate world, we’re starting to create it ourselves.

Corporate culture

“Today’s high achieving women care less about the boardroom,” says Marcia Reynolds, author of Wander Woman: How High Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. “They have a longing for motion and meaning that often doesn’t synchronise with the vertical ascent up the corporate ladder that so many people expected of them – and that they had expected of themselves when they started their careers.”

“I have noticed a definite shift in ambitions over the last five years,” agrees Stylist’s deputy editor, Alix Walker. “Whereas once every job candidate I interviewed would answer ‘editor’ when asked where they wanted to be in five years, now people feel comfortable telling you their ambitions are fluid. They may want to write a book, learn photography, travel. Being top dog is not the end goal.”

Read more: Girls allowed: why women-only co-working spaces are the latest office trend

In short, we’re waking up to the idea that many things about the conventional corporate structure don’t make sense.

“We don’t measure productivity by how many acres we’ve harvested any more, so the amount of time we spend working becomes a proxy,” explains Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. Jason Fried, co-author of the upcoming book The Calm Company agrees. “The office is becoming just another tool, not somewhere you need to need to be tied to,” he says. Fried’s company, Basecamp, was a pioneer in remote working, and now hires home-workers all over the world.

According to the jobs site Timewise, 54% of the working population now have some degree of flexible working – that’s more than 15 million people, and by no means are they all parents. Whatever their age or domestic status, increasingly everybody wants the choice to pursue other interests, volunteer or start a second, more rewarding business. Maybe we simply prefer to spend rush hour in a yoga class rather than pressed into a stranger’s armpit on the Tube. And what’s so bad about that?

Against a backdrop of corporate indifference and increasing job instability, the backlash has begun. Fried and Soojung-Kim Pang aren’t the only ones encouraging us to lean back and re-evaluate what’s important. From Arianna Huffington’s Thrive to Drop The Ball by Tiffany Dufu, to The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Downby Haemin Sunim, the latest batch of work-life books – far from encouraging us to charge ahead – all focus on an holistic approach to success. Huffington calls this the Third Metric – defining our achievements not through the money or power, but through “wellbeing, wonder, wisdom and giving”. To put it another way, it’s about acknowledging that our health, our relationships and our sense of fulfilment matter just as much as our next promotion. In fact, for most of us, they matter more. So while we’re in no way less ambitious, our ambitions have changed and success has been redefined.

“I talk to a lot of women who are saying ‘I want to step back’,” says psychologist and business coach Salma Shah ( “For some, it’s about work-life balance and not wanting to work the same hours, but for most, it’s about finding work that really fulfils them. They want to go back and discover what their calling was.”

Moving sideways

“I have just turned down a job that 10 years ago I would have given my right arm for,” says 33-year-old fashion buyer Hannah Ebbs. “It was more money, responsibility, and travel – all the things I wanted. They were even offering me a profit share. But they wanted me there five days a week, and it would have meant working weekends too. And I just thought, what’s the point in working so hard when I don’t have time to actually live? So I turned them down.”

Instead, Hannah is going to stick with the tiny company where she’s worked part time for the last three years. On Thursdays and Fridays, she heads to her spare room-turned studio and paints. “That’s when I feel most like ‘me’. I am doing the thing I am best at, the thing that gives me most joy. Why would I want to earn thousands more if ultimately it makes me miserable? It would all go on therapy anyway.”

Many of today’s professional women are starting to prioritise wellness in a way that the generations of working women before us never did. Yet ironically, although we’re more aware of the effects of stress we’re also more likely to be stressed at work – government figures for 2015/16 show 37% of all work-related ill health cases were down to stress. “I speak to women in their early 20s and already they’re saying ‘I’m so stressed, work is so hard’ and they’re making themselves ill,” says Pandora Paloma, 31, founder of health and wellbeing consultancy Rooted London.

Paloma herself has leaned back, or rather progressed sideways, into a portfolio career – an increasingly popular option for those who want to pursue their own dreams, but still need to pay the bills. “I was a real worker bee,” she says. “I worked every evening and weekend.” She left college when she was offered a job in PR, working for prestigious fashion and beauty clients, and in just a few years was associate director of her firm. “But after a while, I didn’t feel inspired.” She took a job with a new company that allowed her to work from home sometimes. It gave her the flexibility to train as a yoga teacher and a nutritionist. Two years ago, she finally felt ready to take the plunge and start her own business, while still supplementing her income by freelancing as a PR.

“I have a job that pays the bills, and allows me to do the things I’m passionate about,” she says. “What I value most is being able to carve my own path. I feel so much more in control.”

An alternative path

Leaning back or sideways, or any-which-way-but-in might make sense, but it can still be hard to let go of your old definition of success. Especially in light of feminist rhetoric of the last few years, we might even feel guilty about letting down the sisterhood. As Sandberg writes: “We stand on the shoulders of the women who came before us, women who had to fight for the rights that we now take for granted.” And no-one wants to be that girl, doing all the ‘taking for granted’.

“I think I might always have a pang of ‘what if’ when I hear about one of my old colleagues getting promoted,” says Amy, 29 who left her job in banking to retrain as a play therapist. “I was one of the only women in my previous company, and I was proud of that. It took me a long time to let go of the feeling that I was opting out by redefining what I wanted success to look like.”

A more empowering alternative is to recognise that women are the ones leading the charge to find better ways of working. Changes that might be unwelcome – whether it’s walking away from discrimination or fighting for a flexible contract – force us to come up with creative solutions. Women have fought to make job shares, homeworking and flexitime arrangements the norm. Leaning back is just the next chapter as more power rests with the individual as opposed to the corporation.

Still, it takes time, effort and serious self-belief to fly in the face of society’s ideas of achievement. “We all absorb the preconceptions of people around us,” reflects psychologist Ellen Bard, “but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Ever. Ability is only one aspect of us in the workplace. You can think ‘I could be a senior manager or a boardroom member’, but a job needs to match our professional style and values, too.” And if you’ve already started down one path? “It’s never too late to change your mind.”

The long goal

Psychologists agree that having the ability to adapt to our circumstances is essential for a happy existence. “It’s about thinking: ‘How can I readjust it to make a life that’s more sustainable for me?’’ says Bard. “Because if it’s not sustainable, it’s not a success.” And for those of us who are likely to be working well into our 70s, this is crucial.

And of course, you don’t have to lean back forever. “It’s perfectly possible to ‘lean back’ temporarily,” says career coach Phanella Mayall-Fine, author of Step Up: Confidence, Success And Your Stellar Career In 10 Minutes A Day. “This is often called ‘off-ramping’, and companies are increasingly wising up to the talent pool of people who have ‘ramped off’ and now want to ‘ramp back on’. Many companies such as Credit Suisse, KPMG and Vodafone, among others offer ‘returnships’ or special programmes for those returning to more traditional work structures.” Employers are also beginning to recognise that allowing staff to recharge their batteries may have a real benefit for business, adds career coach Jeremy I’Anson, author of You’re Hired! Total Job Search. “Most responsible employers will have sympathy for this sort of request and recognise that it can be beneficial for both employer and employee. Even Sandberg’s boss Mark Zuckerberg is taking time off to go on a road trip – visiting every state in the US – so times are changing.”

Leaning back worked out pretty well for me. My career didn’t fall off a cliff – I ended up writing a bestselling book which brought with it a plethora of new opportunities. Now, I do the work I care about. I spend time with my family – and a not-at-all photogenic dog. But I’m happier. And everyone else can lean right off...

How to lean back

Define exactly what success means for you

Six-figure salary, flash car, newest Birkin, wired on double espressos? Success has changed radically in the last few years, and material or status goals don’t have the same weight they once carried. Now, what’s most precious is career contentment – and that can be achieved in other ways.

Dip your toe in

“It pays to experiment while you’re in your current role,” says Salma Shah. “Try a course in an area of interest to see if you like it. Then speak to your boss about a sabbatical to try it out for real.”

Rethink the office

If trundling into an office each morning is killing your soul, think about how you’d like to work. Part time, flexi-hours, shared spaces, digital nomad? These days our levels of connectivity mean we can work how and where we like.

Find a mentor

Does somebody out there have your career/life goals? Track. Them. Down. “Talking to the people who live the way you want is a game changer,” says Shah. Ask them how they made it happen – and take notes.


GURGLE: Flexible Working: Dismiss The Stigma


‘Be practical and thoughtful in your application for flexible working,’ say Alice Olins and Phanella Mayall Fine, career experts, mums, and authors of Step Up – Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day (£12.99, Vermilion). ‘Don’t just ask for what you want, but really think about how it works for the role that you have. How does it work for your team or your clients; ask yourself how things will happen when you’re not there. You might think in theory that you can log on at home for three hours every single evening, but is that realistic?’

Also, they advise, ‘Don’t be afraid of talking about your strengths – what you’ve brought in the past and what you’re prepared to bring in the future. We advocate doing this even before you go on maternity leave – so you really cement in your employer’s mind what you’ve achieved and why they need you. Rather than slowly winding down, make time to have a proper meeting with your boss. You’re then in a strong position when you come back to say, “Do you remember that conversation we had? I’m still bringing all of that, I just want to bring it in a little more flexibly now.”’

After the birth of her son Oscar, Phoebe returned to work as operations manager for a restaurant group, and had her request for flexible working granted after showing how she’d manage her days. ‘I’m totally on it at work, so I’m trusted to get the job done,’ she says. ‘I’m paid for three days but work 10am to 4pm, spread over four days, so that nursery runs are relaxed and I still get a lunch hour. A shorter working day means time to do boring errands before I’m at my desk, which eases the pressure of doing them all on my day off with Oscar.’


But there’s more to an attractive flex pattern than a life-admin window, especially when most of our salary is servicing a huge childcare bill. Nobody should have to downgrade their skills or salary to do work that works for the family, yet a poll by reveals 65 per cent of mums are less likely to ask for a pay rise if working flexibly. This indicates that flexi options are still viewed by mums as a generous bonus, rather than a mutually beneficial business decision. If mums are to make any headway in closing the gender pay gap, we need to negotiate on flexi options.

Alice and Phanella say that dips in confidence are common for returning mums, but can be overcome by reviewing what you achieved at work pre-baby and how you’ve added to these skills by becoming a mum. They urge you to dismiss any stigma of flex in your head and speak up for what you want and what you’re worth. Ask to be treated like anyone doing the same work, regardless of whether you’re doing a bit less of it, or at a different time. ‘The bonus is on companies to value the work without any kind of bias, but part of that responsibility is with us, too.’


5 ways to “step up” your career after having a baby

“Our identity is so bound-up with our work that when we become a mother – particularly when we decide to take a career break – many of us struggle with the Mummy phase,” say Alice Olins and Phanella Mayall Fine, the authors of new book Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes A Day, and founders of the Step Up Club. “And the same is true in reverse – how do we recapture our working selves when we’ve been knee-high in organic snacks for the past five years?” This is just one of the many dilemmas faced by working women that the Step Up Club – founded by these two high-flying mothers - aims to tackle...

Alice, Red magazine’s features director at large and Phanella, an ex corporate lawyer and city trader turned executive career coach are on a mission to help women – whatever their job – really work their careers. Their book, career events and online content is full of advice on how to feel empowered and broaden your network and skill set – and they’re not short of hands-on experience themselves – sharing five children and four jobs between them.

Here is their five-point plan on how to make a smooth transition back to work after having a baby so that you can not only recapture but surpass your old working selves.

Words: Claire Brayford | Go to



All mothers feel differently about getting back to work after having a baby. Having said that, lower confidence has the ability to rear its ugly head – and often does – for everyone post maternity leave. Why? Because we worry that we’ve forgotten how to do our jobs. And, especially after a long maternity leave, it can be hard to rebuild an identity as a working woman after so many months at home with a baby, when you’re defined solely as a mother. Thankfully, we can all rebuild our confidence levels. From the off, it’s reassuring just knowing that you are not alone – that even very senior women who seem to have everything in line and are powering forward with their careers, have also experienced this.

Also, take some time to remind yourself of your strengths – do this by showing yourself evidence of what you have done well in the past, and what you can achieve. The process of positive affirmations might feel trite, but it’s incredibly powerful and helps break the cycle of confidence doom too. If you’re struggling about how to show yourself that you still can, go back through old reviews and peruse all those lovely thank you emails that you’ve received in the past from clients and colleagues. By doing this, you will remind yourself why and how you were great before you left!

Then think about what you’ve worked on while you’ve been off on leave: being a mum is a stressful, demanding job and chances are you’ve been flexing some classic career skills while helping to raise your baby. Networking with new local mums, multitasking a busy home with the newborn and then there’s time management, patience and resilience when everything just gets too much. See, you’re doing it all already, just against a different – and usually more food-splattered – context.

Don’t underestimate these as valid experiences and skills – we say, you’ve grown and developed as a person by becoming a mother, now it’s just a case of dovetailing the old you and the new person sitting there worrying about going back to work.

STEP UP TIP: If you don’t have one already, going forward keep a positivity record – compliments you receive, things you achieve, everything should go in there. Then reread every time you need a return to work boost. This is a simple and practical touchstone when your confidence wobbles in the future.



Your day becomes so much less elastic when you have a baby and it’s more important than ever to prioritise. It’s so easy to let your time be completely consumed by the noise – constant emails, laundry – that many of us forget to fit in the crucial building blocks of our daily lives. The good thing about babies is that in the main, they do go to sleep for long (ish) periods during the day – and hopefully the night too! Use this time to your advantage. Make a specific time for household chores or catching up on personal admin (we find the evening is good for these), so that when your brain is in gear during the day, and you manage to catch a few minutes for yourself, you can work efficiently and get the most important rocks in the metaphorical jar. Then, like sand and water, life’s less important things can fit in around the edges.

STEP UP TIP: Accept when you’ve done enough. The peripherals – making Christmas bunting, reorganising your iPhoto account – may never get action-ed, and that’s ok too.



Networking will always be the lifeblood of your career, no matter what is going on in the foreground. Having said that, with a baby in tow, it certainly makes those after work drinks a trickier ask. And anything spontaneous – well you might as well forget it now! What you need to do is learn to fit networking into your new schedule – we think that lunches and coffees, say, are easier than a breakfast or a 6pm glass of white.

Sharing the load is important here too… it can be tempting to do everything for your baby when you’re on maternity leave, but this can make things trickier when you transition back to work. So, while you’re off, make sure your partner has plenty of practice putting your baby to bed too, so that you can have the freedom to join the work gang for early evening drinks if the mood takes you.

STEP UP TIP: Don’t forget how much networking you can now do online too – social media, email, phone – all of these platforms and modes of communication are accessible from your sofa and help keep you in the loop.



A uniform – in the least literal form – is the best plan of attack when you are returning to work. Now that you have a child in tow, as we’ve already said, time will be extra tight and you won’t have the clarity of mind to indulge in much wardrobe planning. So, instead work out a simple set of personal style parameters, and stick to them. Perhaps you feel most comfortable in a pair of wide legs trousers and soft blouse? Or maybe you’re more a dress and flats kind of woman? Whatever your style hack, stick to it and then use accessories to keep your look fresh and interesting.

If you can, invest in a few new pieces before you return to work. These wardrobe newbies will help you feel refreshed and back in the game. Work style is important on many levels: looking the part helps builds confidence, and when we feel confident others respond more positively too. Plus, your style choices help others identify who you are, when verbal communication is out of reach.

STEP UP TIP: Don’t underestimate the power of a strong look: when you set yourself apart and show your individuality (even by just opting for leopard shoes over plain back) others will be able to identify you against the sea of other employees. And a ast piece of advice: enjoy it! Putting on your work outfit is a brilliant way to step out of your mum persona and back into work you.



Here are our top tips:

1. Think about how you want to go back. Do you want to return to work full time, part time or flexibly? There are a whole host of ways to work now – agile working from home, project based working, contract employment – so if you think your old working pattern is no longer compatible with your new family set up, but your boss won’t accept three days a week, don’t give up so easily. Be creative about how you suggest that you fit back in. Just make sure you remain realistic and offer practical solutions that work for everyone.

2. Ease yourself back into work gradually rather than heading in cold turkey. Use your Keeping in Touch (KIT) days (you get 10) to connect back with clients, attend training and slowly settle yourself in so day one isn’t to daunting.

3. Set up a meeting with your manager as soon as possible when you get back. You want to get the lay of the land for your prospects. It’s also advisable to take this opportunity to emphasise your strengths and ambitions going forward so you don’t fall victim to any Mum biases they might have. When you return from maternity leave, communication is key.

4. Get your childcare sorted early. A few weeks to ease into the new nursery run, or a nanny, before you return to work will give you peace of mind and make the practicals run more smoothly. Plus, while your child gets into his or her new grove, you might even find that you have a bit of time to do some pre-work reading or just get your haircut. All these elements are important to an easy transition.

Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes A Day [Random House] is available on Amazon and all good book shops

GET THE GLOSS: Staying Professional In Party Season


It is only a week until Christmas, which means we have officially entered festive limbo at work. The daily grind keeps grinding, but most of us have last minute present buying and mulled wine on the mind. Christmas is a jolly time to be at work, and as two women who nod enthusiastically in the direction of every festive invite we’re all for enjoying the warm fuzzies currently flying around. But as we said at the start, work does tick on in the background, so here’s our 10 Point Step Up guide to getting through pre-Christmas week with a bang, some balance and the right Secret Santa gift.


OK, you’re tired. The nights have closed in and you still have presents to buy for your mother-in-law, the nursery teacher, your pet dog and the postman. You also have to bake a cake for the school Christmas party and your fingernails haven’t seen a slick of nail varnish since August. There is much to be done in the run-up to the Big Day, but don’t let all of these excuses stop you from attending your work Christmas party or the team lunch, drink with an old colleague, or any other festivity that could involve mince pies. When you get yourself at the table, even just figuratively, it sends a strong, "I love my job, I’m committed to the firm" message. This is a good thing. Even if you don’t like your job, and are poised to speak to headhunters come January. Parties are also a great backdrop for team bonding, and as if that wasn’t enough, out of office events, mean you can hob nob in all the right directions and extend that precious network.


Drink: it’s a joy to most of (wo)mankind that December is a free-for-all on the champagne front. But (BIG BUT) if you know you get floozy after one, keep a check on your alcohol intake. It sounds obvious, but the combination of free drinks, holiday cheer, peer pressure and a deep-rooted obligation to network (you’ve clearly read our book!) can cause even the best-laid plans to falter. Have a hard limit - ours is a pre-dinner cocktail and a glass with the meal. Everyone knows that too many drinks mean your inhibitions lower and your capacity to say the wrong thing (or gossip about the office hottie) go through the roof. Have fun, but don’t be the one who gets put in a taxi for their own safety before everyone else has had their main course.


As with everything that goes with work Christmas parties, be spirited but act with caution. If, on the morning of your bash, you find yourself pulling out your skimpiest, sparkliest mini micro number, remember, New Year’s Eve is just a few weeks away. Definitely amp things up if you feel that way inclined – a slick of our favourite, Smashbox Fireball matt lipstick is the ultimate party date whatever the occasion or go big on earrings and some party shoes. Best to pass on anything too revealing though, if you err on the side of caution, not cleavage everything will be fine.


Yup, we both pulled our respective, non-Step Up seniors this year. No joke. Alice has just £5 to impress her Red editor, while things are a bit more generous at Phanella’s career coaching business – she’s got £20 to get the job done. Whatever your budget, and whoever you are buying for, we say steer clear of smutty humour and go as luxurious as your budget allows. We’ve plumped for wild flower seeds and a SpaceNK gift box respectively.


If your work party involved a dance floor, be cautious. As one of us knows all too well, dirty dancing with the big boss is NOT a good idea. Learn from us: it isn’t fun being the butt of everyone’s joke in the cold light of morning. Ditto smooching with a colleague, no matter how attractive they might be.


A photograph of yourself sprawled out on the nightclub toilet floor, is not an attractive image. Even less on the next morning when you’re scrolling through your Instagram feed. All we’re saying is be careful when you’ve had a drink, are feeling festive and have your Smartphone in your hand. And don’t even go near the video setting.


The festive season might be the only time you get direct access to the head honchos – so use your opportunities wisely. We say, have a loose plan of who you are going to talk to before you even arrive. Psych yourself up a bit on the way there and then make a beeline when the time is right. Make your own hit list and stick to it, you’ll thank yourself come January.


In our book, we often talk about self-promotion in terms of building Brand You. You are your own brand, so market yourself well at your Christmas do. Be authentic, engaging and make your conversations memorable for all the right reasons. Christmas parties are a good time to blend a bit of your personal story into the brand, so share parts of you – that gap year in India – that your colleagues may not already know. What we’re saying is give your brand some colour and a non-work spin.


If you meet someone new and interesting at a Christmas party this season, remember to send her or him a thoughtful message early in the New Year. This can be as little as a quick LinkedIn one-liner or an Instagram DM – just make sure you cement that new connection. When you are strategic and diligent about following up your Christmas party chats, you’re likely to open the door to a whole new set of opportunities come 2017.


Don’t be the person who calls in sick the day after the big Christmas party. It’s the oldest trick in the book and no one will respect you, especially when they’ve hauled themselves in even on just a few precious hours’ sleep. Work is work at the end of the day, so do things right. Your Christmas break awaits; so slog out those last few days and come back refreshed and ready for action again in January. Happy Christmas everyone!

Get The Gloss: Why You Should Always Say Yes To Networking (Even If You're Terrified)


We know that it is cold outside. We know the sun goes down at 4pm and henceforth your non-work thoughts generally revolve around comfy sofas, box sets and nourishing bowls of soup/curry/pasta (delete as appropriate).

We also know that all of these Hygge-vibe cosy evenings mean that during the cold winter months, networking events become even less appealing. It was OK in the summer, when you could swing by for an alfresco glass of bubbles, but now that the cold has closed in, many of us are starting to politely decline those vital, career-enhancing social invites.

We say: the soup can wait. Why? Because networking is the beating heart at the centre of your career body. Without it, you exist in a vacuum. Careers are about people and relationships – and whatever industry you’re in, you always need to be building new links so that your system of tiny networking capillaries can continue to grow and thrive.

Did you know, for example that around 75 per cent of new jobs are found through networks? Yup, the majority of new appointments are made either internally via the office grapevine or beyond the office walls at business social events.

Not looking for a new job? Then perhaps this will interest you: the majority of new business comes through word of mouth too. Yes, you guessed it networking also brings in the money.

Take it from us (a pair of once shy career girls, who now find it impossible to put the career chat away) networking really is the lifeblood of your career. Because as we’ve already said, it’s people – not the hard daily graft – who breathe life and opportunities into your work, whatever stage you’re at.

Talking at a slight tangent now, Step Up Club members and people we’ve met while promoting our book, often ask us about mentors. And they always ask the same question: where do I find one? The answer (you know what’s coming now) is simple: your network. Networking isn’t just about meeting new people, it's about accessing and engaging with the ones you’re already tapped into. And that applies to building mentoring relationships and finding a sponsor.

As we say in the book, the first thing you need to do when you’re thinking about networking, is to realise and appreciate the one you’ve already got. Don’t just go through your work email list; push it further. Trawl your Facebook account; think about those friends (and friends of friends) you knew in childhood; others who you met at university; even the ones who just live nearby and you bump into now and again at the local farmers market. All of these people (and many, many more) are valid markers on your networking map – and each could lead you to something new and exciting at work.

So how do you actually grow your network?

1. Stop using the word networking. The word alone can fill even the boldest of us with dread – so instead, repackage the concept. Break it down: what is networking? It’s conversations. And chances are you’re already pretty good at those. So there you are, networking is just a conversation with a work purpose. Conversations with a purpose; see, not scary at all.

2. Once you meet people make sure to LISTEN. We spend so much time during conversations trying to work out what we’re going to say that often we forget to just be in the moment and hear what people are saying. People love to be heard and you often don’t need to say much to make an impression. Plus, listening means you can connect with people at a level and on subjects that really interest them, rather than spending the whole conversation stressing about how to fit what you want to say into a space where it doesn’t fit.

3. Shift your mindset. Instead of going into a room and worrying about what you’ll get out of the networking event, think about what you can offer. Even as someone young or junior, you’ll always have your own unique spin on things – whether that’s tech knowledge, for example, or just your time. Reverse the mental ticker tape from fear and desperation, towards generosity. Because once you are in a giving frame of mind, you’ll feel more relaxed – and that’ll make more people interested in talking to you.

4. Know your story. And tell it with heart. Have a short, concise version of your elevator pitch so that you can share what you do and your goals succinctly. But remember to also give a sense of who you are. Really engage with other people. Try thinking about what attracts you (in a career capacity) to others. We bet it isn’t their dexterity with an ExCel spreadsheet, rather it’ll be their manner, their way with words, or that funny story they once told you about mistaking their boss for the cleaner. Now, practice your story to family and friends. Remember, don’t ramble – you’re aiming for 90 seconds – but as we’ve said, make it natural and memorable.

5. Always take the meeting. Yes, many of us lead very busy lives, but if a new work contact asks you for a meet up – go. You never know what might come from half an hour over two cappuccinos. Perhaps, it’ll be your next big career move.

6. Business cards at the ready. If you don’t have your details at hand, all your hard work is likely to be lost into the ether. Ok, not all of us have business cards; if your company doesn’t supply them, order your own. We love for modern, stylish versions of the classic black and white business card. If it’s applicable, add your social handles too. Social media is a fertile networking ground across many industries. So have all your details ready to pass over at the end of the night.

7. Follow up. There’s no point putting the soup on the back burner, telling your career story with meaning and slapping the coolest business card in the hand of the most awesome guest on the block, if you don’t follow up. It’s easy: a day or so after meeting someone new send an email to cement the connection. And then, once you’ve done this, it’ll be easy to reconnect when the right moment arises – perhaps you’ve just read a newspaper feature you’d know they’d be interested in, or maybe you want to introduce them to someone else whose career path is heading in the same direction? Whatever it is, keep your networking heart beating to ensure those connections stay alive.

Step Up – Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day (£12.99) by Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins

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Financial Times: Work to Dinner Dressing

Alice talks about over the table dressing and why it works for work to evening in this week's Financial Times style column: 

"My stock work outfit at the moment is a pair of wide trousers and some kind of soft, high-necked blouse, which is just as compatible with the office as it is a dinner party or drinks with friends," says Alice Olins, co-author of Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes A Day, and co-founder of the Step Up Club. "Statement tops are a brilliant way of feeling current without having to overhaul your entire wardrobe. I recently invested in two cocktail blouses from Self Portrait and Topshop with high necks and a gentle Victoriana feel."

Get The Gloss: Work Hard, Sleep Well (Yes you can do both)


We are living proof that to be productive at work, you need to be kind to yourself when it comes to those precious hours of shuteye. The launch of our book last month meant that we were not living by our usual mantras and advice: we felt jittery, we were working too late into the evening, we slept with our phones by our sides, because it was a big Step Up moment and we found it hard to chill. The result has been two stinking colds between us, to welcome in October and an entire week, last week, when we were woefully unproductive. Seriously, we sat out our computers on Wednesday and just stared at the screens. We spent four hours writing three emails and our heads hurt. 

Thankfully, each week is a new dawn and we’re back on track. The book launch is settling and we’ve made a conscious decision to prioritise sleep again. So this month we're writing about how to sleep well and work hard. As we learned last week, the better rested we are, the more productive we will be. Lack of sleep or even poor quality rest, elevates levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lowers our resilience and generally gets in the way of our effectiveness at work. On the flipside, the more anxious we become, the more difficult it becomes to get a good night’s sleep. And it’s not just quantity, but quality too. Rest is driven as much by our bodies as by our minds. Lower your cortisol and calm by taking yourself out of your stress bubble every day. How? Read on for our Step Up guide to a more peaceful mind and an energised career. 


We are all constantly plugged into our phones; that flash of light, that ping. While it seems fun and distracting in the moment, phones impact on our sleep. Research says that these days, many of us spend more time tending to the needs of our phones, than we do our lovers. This is a dangerous game on many levels, not least because being in a close, loving relationship often aids our pursuit of overall contentment. 

The Internet, social media and our phone – the biggest conduits of our online addictions – interrupt our brains’ optimal functioning. They make us needy and angsty; they are a modern-day drug which constantly penetrate our peaceful (ish) lives. Using our phones means we end up over-stimulated, overtired; both of these erode our sense of balance and our ability to perform or concentrate at a high level. We say, put your phones away at a designated time each night (the earlier, the better) and whatever you do, do not take them into the bedroom. When you give your brain a phone break, you allow yourself to become naturally more relaxed and by doing this, you will find that you fall asleep more easily and stay asleep longer. 


Comparison is the enemy of calm, because it revs us up into thinking we have to be like someone else, or do better than someone else. When we do this, we create within ourselves a low level anxiety that makes it hard to switch off. Comparison isn’t just caused by flicking through your Instagram account; try to check yourself during the day, at work or when you are with friends too, because all can be instigators of that stressful feeling of not being good enough. In fact, comparison is not only detrimental to our state of mind, but it can often be just plain wrong. Someone’s external façade can often belie the reality going on backstage. Be kind to yourself, know your own strength and brilliance - and see how you sleep better. 


If we’ve read it once, we’ve read it a thousand times: one thing that successful women share is their energy levels. It’s not innate - successful women’s adrenal glands don’t secrete caffeine! Energy is something that can be cultivated. 

The reason we are so interested in energy, is because good sleep is at the heart of energy. It sounds obvious, but sometimes you need to read that in black and white to accept the truth of the matter. We spoke to the very well-rested foodie Jasmine Hemsley while we were writing the book. Here is what she says: “Sleep and proper downtime are the things that always get compromised in a busy career. Passion gives you energy, but you have to check in with yourself as new and exciting opportunities and ideas pop up. Sometimes, you just have to block out a day in the diary… otherwise you will totally burn out. So if I am tired, I say I am tired. If I feel exhausted, I give into it, go home and go to bed at 9 o’clock and feel brand new the next day.” 


There are two sides to the resilience coin: if you sleep well you will be more resilient at work - and if you’re more resilient at work, you will sleep better too. Interestingly, resilience is as much driven by our bodies as by our minds. We have already talked about cortisol. A simple lunchtime walk in the park or pre-work yoga session can be disproportionately effective in calming us down. And the effects of both will last into the evening, driving your sleep. To reach this resilience nirvana, you can also start the ball rolling by eating the right foods. Caffeine, alcohol and sugar are the things we crave when we’re feeling stressed, but of course, these all end up keeping us awake. The more tired and stressed you feel, the more conscious you need to be about what you eat. 


When we talk about balance in the book - and obviously feeling balanced goes hand-in-hand with sleeping well - we explore the theory of ‘flex styles’; or in other words, how to make sure your work schedule is in tune with you. In the main, women fall into three flex style categories: Integrators, Separators and Volleyers. As their names suggests, Integrators feel energised blending their work and personal lives, there is no clear line between the two. 

Alice is a natural Integrator who is happy mixing up her personal and work responsibilities. While she is careful not to be on work calls, or check emails when her daughters are in tow, she's always happy to allocate slices of time during the day to each side of her life so that she can keep all her plates simultaneously spinning. Alice finds this blend energising and exciting but needs to be careful. When she plays too fast and loose with her boundaries, checking emails late at night in bed, for example, adrenaline will stop her getting the sleep she needs. Separators, on the other hand, use physical space and shrewd scheduling to keep things divided. 

Phanella is a down-to-the ground Separator, drawing clear boundaries of time and space between each area of her life. Order keeps her calm and in control, but with hectic work and personal lives the clarity she craves isn’t always possible. If she allows the craziness to encroach – working late or taking calls on the school run – the stress of working against her type can make sleep hard to grasp. Even amidst the chaos she has to be clear: for example, always turning off her email an hour before she goes up to bed. When we know our type and consciously operate within our comfort zone, sleep will come all the easier. 

Step Up – Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 minutes a Day (£12.99) by Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins

Get The Gloss: BRAND YOU, Our New Career Column



Here’s a piece of work style advice you never thought you’d hear: high heels are bad for your career. Ok, full disclosure; high heels aren’t actually going to prevent you from finding meaningful or lasting career success. Heck, we’re both suckers for a pair of stilettos when the right situation arises, but high heels do unbalance your gravitas – and gravitas is closely linked to confidence.

And as it states in the title of our new female career manual, Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day, we are deep believers in the importance of confidence when it comes to work. As women we tend to wear our emotions on our sleeves; we are empathetic, fragile, sometimes highly strung, at others times unnecessarily hard on ourselves, but are we are also incredibly intuitive, the list goes on….

Our emotions make us unique and brilliant, but they can also render us fragile in work scenarios. We overthink, and that makes us doubt our abilities and when we doubt ourselves, we lack gravitas.

Gravitas is a state; it is a way of being that infers authority. Politicians have gravitas because they need to be able to persuade the electorate to their points of view. Many doctors have gravitas. Royalty are gravitas experts. Michelle Obama, Anna Wintour and Beyoncé each possess their own brand of gravitas, their own kind of presence, their own vibe that powers them through their work and their lives. Gravitas isn’t about what you think or say, it’s about how you say it.

Confident people have gravitas and gravitas comes with confidence. The two are intrinsically interwoven, both playing into the base ability to be able to stand up, be counted and have people take notice. Gravitas can present in many forms: poise under pressure, absolute decisiveness, an indisputable power of persuasion. And research says, nothing rocks gravitas like a pair of 10cm Louboutins or Choos, though we love each brand dearly. Heels throw you off balance and make it more difficult to ground yourself into the floor, and being unbalanced is an instant gravitas killer.


We all need gravitas at work, because work is as much about perceptions as it is hard graft. When someone walks into the room and exudes authority, or leads a presentation and does it with gusto, humour and panache, it’s natural to feel impressed. What we’re impressed by, if you break it down, is an impression and when you can get the impression working in your favour – heels or no heels – your career and confidence will soar.


Gravitas and body positioning are closely linked. When we present open, strong postures, we instantly boost our gravitas rating. So as a woman, it is even more important for us to master our stance: think open, expansive and still. Being off balance, teetering on heels for example, makes that much more difficult. We totter, reposition ourselves more often and find it more difficult to open up our torsos, because the stilettos require that we concentrate more on keeping in position. When we ground ourselves into the floor in a chic pair of flats, or neat ballet slippers, we anchor ourselves down, and those powerful poses tend to flow more naturally. Breathing is also a vital part of the gravitas formula. It is of course often in the most pressured situations, those when we require our highest levels of gravitas (read: interviews/presentations/meetings with the big cheese), that anxiety makes it wobble.

When we’re nervous, our breath automatically speeds up and becomes more shallow. But breath - slow, measured breath - is intrinsic to giving off an appearance of power. We say, even if you’re panicking on the inside, you don’t want to seem that way (think swan), so concentrate on slow, steady breaths from the diaphragm – think yoga. When we do this, we appear calmer than we actually are, and when that happens, we instantly become a more grounded, less wobbly sort of confident.


Yes, of course! As we said above, we wear heels all the time. Our advice would be, and it just so happens that this season block heels are majorly on trend, that if you can, go for a lower more solid version that reduces wobble. Practice also makes perfect; so don’t pick your wobbly new skyscrapers for a job interview, rather wear them in a bit on a Saturday night before you let them loose at work. When it comes to gravitas and heels, it’s about having self-awareness (another big Step Up theme) – when you stay conscious of how you feel, how you stand and how you breathe you can still absolutely achieve gravitas in a pair of stonking Louboutins. After all, what you lose in balance, you’ll make up for in feel good factor and a great silhouette!

Step Up – Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 minutes a Day (Vermilion), £12.99 pbk by Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins. Buy online here

Follow the Step Up Club on InstagramTwitter and Facebook. Picture credit: Liya Zlotnik.

Virgin: Whether You Like It Or Not, You're A Leader

In our new book, Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day, we talk a lot about leadership, heck we’ve dedicated an entire chapter to the subject. Why? Because as anyone who inhabits a space within an office will know, this is a complex, sensitive and often misunderstood subject.

On a practical level, our book seeks to unlock the leader within all of us; we give readers space, in our unique 10 minute career workouts, to practice the skills necessary (more of which coming up) to command at the top. More than that though, we challenge the concept of leadership as a whole - in Step Up’s eyes, we are all leaders at all times during our career.

Ok, we may not yet have a bustling team below us - or even, in some cases, aspire to have that team at all. We may just have one toe on our career path; but even then, all of us have the scope to utilise leadership qualities. When you accept that you can be - that you are - a leader already, it demystifies the concept and makes it so much more attainable.

Our book is primarily written for women. We are two working women who are doing it too, and because of that we also talk extensively about female leaders. If you are a man, don’t click the cross at the top of your screen just yet; female leadership, as the current political landscape pays testament to, is a hot topic.

And to be able to meaningfully progress at work whatever your sex, it’s worth knowing all the facts.

What's holding us back?

An advert for a sanitary pad is not an obvious place for female Leadership reform. But that didn’t stop Always. In 2014, the American female hygiene company, launched it’s #LikeAGirl campaign with an emotive advert directed by Lauren Greenfield. In it, Greenfield asked pre-pubescent girls what it meant to run, jump and punch like a girl. Then she asked grown women. The results showed the chasm between those old enough to be influenced by society, and the blissfully uninformed.

The untainted youngsters leapt and sprinted with gusto, with one five-year-old neatly summing things up from their perspective: ‘It means to run as fast as you can.’ The twenty-somethings, of course, had no such passion; to them, running like a girl meant being knock-kneed and shrieking. What the advert so brilliantly encompassed was the negative stereotyping that women hold towards themselves.

And it is these biases that stop women becoming leaders.

Lauren Greenfield is an example of an exceptional female Leader who didn’t let her insecurities, fears and self-stereotyping hold her back. She is brave and visionary; she rouses emotion in others and she captures devotion to her cause. These are the qualities of a leader - male or female - and we are going to take you through our top four steps on how to not only accept that you are a leader already, but enhance those skills you already have to make you the best leader you can be.

1. Embrace your current leadership status

As we stated at the top, you are already a leader. You might not know it, but in some capacity or other, you guide others - and that can include those above you. Leaders aren’t just the ones who make up the C-suite in the boardroom. Leading is about motivating others; it’s being visionary and strategic. So really wherever you sit on the career tree, in some capacity or other, you are a leader already - you just might not label yourself correctly. 

When we present ourselves as a capable, willing future leaders (even if we’re very happy not directing the Hollywood’s next blockbuster movie) we single ourselves out as someone determined, capable, imaginative and confident. The crux of good leadership is not the number of people below us, it is how we’re regarded and how we regard others. When you act like a leader - capably and with passion - it’s hard to not motivate others in your wake.

2. Be your own leadership cheerleader

Classic leaders, those who are at the top or have big teams below them, tend to share a set of qualities that have helped springboard them to the mountain’s summit. But honing those skills in isolation is futile unless we believe that we can actually lead.

Internalising ourselves as a leader is an iterative process - we can’t decide to do it, rather we learn it from experiences over time. When we start to act in certain ways (as a leader) or instigate specific actions that assert us as a leader, we slowly trick our mind into compliance. When we, in turn, are treated as a leader we feel more confident, and when that happens, we find it easier to imagine ourselves taking charge. What we’re saying is that the first step to being a success on the leadership front, is putting yourself out there - actually taking those first steps of self-belief, for the process to start.

3. Be inspirational

At the top of our Step Up leadership checklist, is the ability to ask for what you want. Because when a team feels as though it is working towards a common goal, they are happier but more productive too.

Inspirational Leaders are crucial in the workplace of tomorrow because they reflect the intrinsic values and job satisfaction levels of younger workers through their emphasis on empowerment and alliance. When we can inspire, we bring others along with us in a wave of positivity.

More than that though, look for an inspiring team - build a band of leaders who all share the same values and understanding and it will be impossible not to succeed - and have fun in the process. None of us can work in a vacuum; we all naturally possess different strengths, so we say, surround yourself with a tribe of inspired co-workers. After all, behind every great leader, is an even better team.

4. Be visionary

Visionary leaders are able to answer the question of where they are going. They do this for themselves but crucially they articulate it for others too and by doing this, visionary leaders encourage creativity and innovation - they bring people along with them. Not only do they inspire, leaders with vision trigger an elusive state in others: devotion.

So what is vision? It is, quite simply, a matter of doing three things well.

  • Sensing opportunities and threats in the environment.
  • Setting strategic direction.
  • Inspiring constituents.

Passionate, visionary leaders, the ones who successfully transform and inspire others to their cause, need to have one key ingredient in their leadership mix: confidence.

Confidence is a crucial Step Up theme. Again it’s another complex subject that deserves more than this passing summary, but for the sacke of speed here, take it from us that you can’t lead (and we mean leadership in every sense and stage of the word) unless you have the self-belief to be able to think big. Luckily, at the heart of our Step Up movement is a belief that all essential career skills can be learnt and belief in yourself as a leader is no different. Try this High Intensity Career Workout (of which there are 49 more in our book), and see your leadership star start to soar.

Work out: Visioning leader you

(10 minutes) If you are struggling to imagine yourself as a leader despite consciously acknowledging your strengths and making sure you are working on something you believe, use this exercise to bring your vision into focus.

First, grab a pen and paper. Close your eyes and imagine that you are a leader. Don’t worry about the specifics yet, but imagine yourself leading a group. And importantly free yourself from realism. You are the leader of whatever or whomever you chose.

Start by imagining what you are doing. Use these questions to help get you started:

  • Are you leading your own business or are you in a bigger company?
  • What do you have for breakfast?
  • How do you get to work?
  • What are you wearing?
  • How do people respond to you when you get there?
  • What tasks do you do in the day?
  • How do you feel about being you?

Go through your entire day, from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep that night, and spend 10 minutes writing down (in as detailed as possible) what you’d be doing. Doing this exercise with its focus on the minutiae of a day in your life as a leader will help the image of you as a leader come to life. Leader You will feel real and within your grasp.

Step Up: Confidence, success and your stellar career in 10 minutes a day is available now. The book evolved out of the Step Up Club through which Phanella and Alice host inspiring career events in beautiful spaces for members to take a fresh look at their careers.

Selfish Mother: How To Seem More Confident

When people feel confident they exhibit lots of verbal and non-verbal clues that give off an air of control, contentment and aplomb. Simon Cowell calls this this X Factor and we tend to agree with him. What you’re aiming to achieve (or at least be able to fake) is an aura.

The physical realisation of women with confidence, as we’ll explain more fully further on, is that our body language becomes more expansive, we intervene earlier in conversations and we work with a calm, relaxed air. Even faking confidence can make us feel more self-assured. It’s that old belief cycle again: feed the cogs’ confident behaviours (fake or not) and in time they will spin into bona fide confident feelings. If it feels like a charade then that’s because it is – and that’s OK too. In time, these acts of confidence (speaking up in meetings, pitching an unexpected story to the editor) will become self-fulfilling.

Workout- Visualising the Confident You

When we have done something confidently – as we now know – we actually become more confident. But what if you could trick your mind into believing that was the case?

  1. (2 minutes) Close your eyes and focus on what it is you’d like to do with confidence.
  2. (1 minute) Focus on your breath: make it even, focusing on the outbreath to calm your body and inner voice.
  3. (5 minutes) Now take five minutes to relax. Imagine the moment twenty seconds after having done what (before) you weren’t self-confident enough to do. Imagine it in depth – what actually happened? What were the sounds and smells? What was said? Notice how easy and natural it felt. Now, notice how relaxed and serene you feel being confident in what you’ve achieved.
  4. (2 minutes) Now press rewind. Practise replaying how it went, how calm and self-assured you were – as if you’ve just had that experience, ‘remembering’ in detail how you felt and what you ‘said’ and ‘did’.

When it’s time to do it for real, you will have tricked your brain. It will know the confident you – the one that is calm and relaxed in the face of a hurdle it has conquered before. Now you have acted, the circle of increased confidence can carry on.

Motherland: A Week of Career Advice

Step Up, the ‘ultimate women’s career manual’, is the first book to be published by Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins, founders of Step Up Club, an organisation that hosts career events that help women reevaluate what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, and then works with them to help them find ways of improving and furthering their careers.

Mayall Fine’s background is in career coaching where she has coached and trained hundreds of women focusing on women’s leadership and advancement, maternity and diversity. Olin’s background is in journalism, and after a decade at The Times as senior fashion writer, followed by a stint at Marie Claire, she is now at Red Magazine where she is fashion features director at large. Between them they also share five children.

Here they share an exclusive extract from the balance chapter of their book. This will be followed each day this week by a series of career related advice around, amongst other things, confidence, returning to work and networking…

On Balance

Of all the issues we discuss in this book, balance is the most emotive. It forces us to look at our own choices through the lens of choices different to our own. Balance brings us back full circle to the beginning of our book: Step Up is based on the belief that we must define our own success – and the same is true of balance. While we cannot possibly tell you exactly how you will find true and honest balance in your life, we will plainly set out the facts and then advise you on the best ways to achieve this mythical, often elusive state of being.

“At the moment, women have fifteen years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue.” Kirsty Allsop is right. Time is another key ingredient in the pressure cooker of female careers. One that has the potential to ruin the dish entirely.

As Allsop says, many of us feel we need to progress as quickly as possible with few detours so that we can reach our success early on in life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that – it’s admirable in fact, to have such drive, commitment and vision – and it works as long as this time-pressured career path suits our vibe and our life plans.

Life isn’t a hamster wheel that needs to spin in the same direction for eternity. We have the power to make our careers work for us and that includes having children (and myriad other responsibilities) and still feeling balanced

These days, careers are wonderfully long and winding. Remember what we said at the start: as women we have so many opportunities ahead, not forgetting that re-energised second wind in our fifties and sixties. What we’re saying is work hard and work tactically early on and you will build a strong foundation that can withstand any detours along the way.

Often, other people see the arrival of a baby as the ultimate career inhibitor. Actually, the opposite is so often true. Children can be wonderful career exalters; it’s just that society doesn’t take the broad view. It thinks (wrongly) that mothers = distracted employees. And while mothers can become distracted now and again, working mothers are also gritty, passionate employees who possess a renewed resolve for success.

Life isn’t a hamster wheel that needs to spin in the same direction for eternity. We have the power to make our careers work for us and that includes having children (and myriad other responsibilities) and still feeling balanced. Hopefully, that thought alone has made you feel a tiny bit less frazzled already; after all, if we are going to be working for the next half a century, there is just no need to sprint the marathon. Your time is just that, yours – so remember to hold it tight and spend it your way.

Sophie Walker, leader of the newly formed Women’s Equality Party, mother of two daughters, autism campaigner and instigator of change, says she’d be unable to meaningfully engage in all the facets of her life without her husband. “I couldn’t do what I’m doing without a supportive partner: my husband and I are very similar, we’re both hugely driven and ambitious. We both come from working-class, Northern families – we get each other. We have a very tight bond and that matters hugely.”

Equality is as much about attitude as it is chores. Remember too that your return to work – even if it barely covers childcare – is an investment not only in yourself but in all of your futures

No person – man or woman – can spin all the plates of work, life and children all at the same time; when things become more complicated, we just can’t progress or survive alone. Support is a vital component of attaining any type of balance: doing the dirty work needs to be equally passed around.

A good measure of how even things are in your house is the question of childcare payment: if it has been agreed that your salary will notionally cover this, then we propose that things aren’t as equal as they could be. Do you have his and hers milk in the fridge? We guess not. Equality is as much about attitude as it is chores. Remember too that your return to work – even if it barely covers childcare – is an investment not only in yourself but in all of your futures.

When we build a level playing field at home, where responsibilities are even-handed (and you aren’t the one who always takes the day off work because Baby Number One has croup again) then our glide towards personal balance should feel smoother.

So much of the female career progression formula – and we include balance in this – is based on not just equality, but in educating men to shift their opinions and cut us some slack and us doing the same for them too. Yes, we want parity, but parity doesn’t equate to sameness. If you do have children, you might still end up the more dominant and involved caregiver. The crucial thing is that if you do, you do it by choice.

Extracted from Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day by Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins (Vermilion, £12.99)


RED Magazine: Transform Your Career With A 10-Minute Workout

Writing a book on women's careers was not on my five-year plan. I’m a fashion journalist; I was happy with my career lot. And then Phanella came along: ex-corporate lawyer and City trader turned executive career coach. We met, we drank, we realised that while we were very different, we shared a vision. We believe that if each of us is individually empowered to push our career forward, then collectively as women we will drive change.

But who has time for another career tome? Between us, Phanella and I share five children, four jobs and a pair of husbands, so we’ve used the same fast-paced training approach that we practise in the gym for our new-style career manual. Each chapter contains five unique (Step Up) High Intensity Career Workouts. Here are three to try.


This workout takes 10 minutes of your time at a networking or social event – whether it’s a yoga class or a dinner party.

1) Start small Approach somebody you already know and find out one new thing about them. It might involve asking questions you wouldn’t normally ask, but push through and be brave.

2) Get bolder Find someone you know vaguely, or haven’t seen in a while. Reconnect with them. Next, tell them one development for you since you last spoke. Have you started a new project? Moved house? Think, then share.

3) The deep end Reach out to one completely new person and get their details. Be bold – and remember, they’re probably nervous too. Finally, seal the deal by sending each person a follow-up email (or text, or handwritten note) securing re-contact. Networking 101 done.


We’re hardwired to be pleasant and compliant. But allowing yourself to politely disagree means you can reject unnecessary feedback and assert yourself. Here’s how:

1) Prepare Either take a taxi somewhere or walk into your local coffee shop or pub. Anywhere an in-depth chat with a stranger could be on the menu.

2) Take aim Strike up a 10-minute conversation. Lead the taxi driver/barista into talking about a current issue. You choose the topic – it could be Hillary Clinton or Brexit, whatever you like.

3) Fire Now for the hard part. Whatever they say and whatever your true feelings, take the opposite position and disagree. This is about getting comfortable with speaking out. And learning to disagree is a great place to start. For a week, try engaging in debate once a day.


In a recent study, candidates were asked to supply two CVs: one they had written themselves and one by a friend. Researchers ranked the friend-written CV higher than the personal one – proving that women are hard on themselves. Unfortunately, taking our friends to job interviews is unfeasible, but we can still harness the power of their support...

1) Find somewhere relaxed for a chat (think comfy sofa).

2) For three minutes, talk your friend through your career, focusing on what you’ve achieved and where you hope to be in five years.

3) Give your friend time to process what you’ve said, before asking them to repeat your career story back as they heard it.

4) This will teach you two lessons. One: you’ve probably achieved more than you thought. Two: your career as a story is more compelling than a one-page CV. What were the points they highlighted?

5) Harness that perspective and talk people through your story.

Extracted from Step Up: Confidence, Success And Your Stellar Career In 10 Minutes A Day by Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins (Vermilion, £12.99)

For more 10-minute career workouts, join Alice Olins and Phanella Mayall Fine for an exclusive mentoring session at 3pm on Saturday 24th September. To book tickets, go to 


Telegraph: Why what we wear to work matters and how to get it right


Figuring out what to wear in the office needn't be a minefield, resulting in dull choices. Fashion journalist Alice Olins, and career coach, Phanella Mayall Fine have found the perfect style guide. 

Phanella and I may have just written our first book together, but if we stood next to each other in our usual work garb, you’d think we’d never met.

An ex-City fund manager and corporate lawyer, Phanella is now an executive career coach; she wears sleek dark tailoring and expensive Kate Middleton heels. I am a fashion journalist; I am as emotionally and sartorially removed from Canary Wharf as one woman can be.

Our book is a new take on the female career manual. Less smashing glass ceilings, it’s more of an holistic and emotional look at what we actually want out of our careers and how to get it. We’ve included interviews with our favourite, high-profile women – Kirsty Young, the Hemsley sisters, the late Zaha Hadid and The Telegraph’s Lisa Armstrong, among them – and 50 of our 10-minute work outs that allow readers to practise what we preach.

Ok, full disclosure here: despite everything I wrote at the top, Phanella and I are starting to sartorially morph. Two years ago, when we sat down over a bottle of wine, and decided that, yes, there was something in the ether, brewing around women’s careers and equality, we were at opposite ends of the work style continuum.  

Now though, I find myself reaching for a pair of heels at 8 o’clock in the morning and feel drawn to the classic fitted shirt. Phanella has started to leave the blazer at home and she’s even buying spriggy, soft-silhouette dresses at Zara.

Why is this interesting? Because a uniform is the basis of every winning work wardrobe. Whether you’re a doctor doing ward rounds or the next FinTech entrepreneur, if you’re stumbling around in the dark, strip back and dress by numbers.

Four or five solid, stylish items that you can wear in numerous variations (dress + knit + shirt, say, or jeans + soft blazer + blouse) will ease your early morning routine – and, more importantly, send positive messages to others: I’m confident, I can pick up social cues, let’s do this.

What we wear to work matters. It influences how others treat us and, crucially, how we feel about ourselves too. Sloppy clothes = sloppy work and all that. According to research, when we first meet someone in a work scenario – the dreaded interview outfit – we have 0.1 of a second to win.

Once you’ve bagged the job, don’t underestimate what your clothes say about you. Sometimes words are out of reach at work, especially around senior staff. A chipper pink trouser or some intriguing Prada-esque layering, can be enough to pique interest – who’s she?

Hillary Clinton is proof that even if it doesn’t come naturally, giant silver polka dots and tangerine suits can be conquered. Clinton is a fearless, experimental dresser who has arrived somewhere chic and vote-worthy – smart hair, sleek shirting and colours that don’t make your eyes wobble. The world’s press has been forced to find another victim to dissect – luckily she’s pitted against Donald Trump.

So how can you get it right when choice is limitless and the parameters increasingly fuzzy? Stop, observe and note – clues hover around every water cooler. Identify a style role model and take care to understand how she gets it right. If your office is a style tundra, search out Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Jenna Lyons and Sophia Coppola – all nail career-appropriate, authentic and can flex a killer accessory.

Take inspiration from others, but don’t do it at the expense of what makes you unique. If this means that you won’t feel right unless you weave a Gucci frill into your corporate void, then shoulders back and in you go.

Yes, morals tell us that what we wear to work shouldn’t matter; that success is the culmination of efficiency, aptitude and pluck. The truth is, we are a visual species and we make judgements on how everyone – ourselves included – look.

One lost Milan fashion week suitcase later (grazie Alitalia), and I will forever hold a sting of pain in my stomach about not looking work-ready. Without my carefully planned capsule wardrobe and Acne demi-wedges, I stood in the hotel room and doubted myself. Baggy, aeroplane-friendly harem pants and make-up in another country rendered me unusually insecure. Yet, a day later, once my suitcase arrived, and once the Acne’s were in place, I became a different woman.

It’s ok to care about how you look at work – success has many faces. When you play the game, and do it well, your clothes can stir fascination, respect, joy and amazement – they can make you feel powerful and confident. 

And you can’t say that about an Excel spreadsheet. Alice Olins

Step Up by Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins (Vermilion, £12.99


YOU Magazine: The Key to Success is Confidence

The key to success is confidence, say career coaches Alice Olins and Phanella Mayall Fine, even if you have to FAKE it. Here's how... 

When tennis star Billie Jean King accepted a challenge to play the former male world number one Bobby Riggs in 1973, she took a step into the unknown. Not only was she about to take on a bigger and stronger opponent, she was also up against his atrocious opinion of women: ‘Number one, the woman should stay in the bedroom. Number two, they should get to the kitchen. Number three, they should support the man.’ It took confidence to even walk out on to the court that day and she won in three straight sets. ‘I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match,’ Billie later said.

We aren’t born confident – it’s something that evolves, a fluid attitude that influences how we shape our lives. At work, confidence is crucial; often the missing link between our hopes and our achievements. It is the cornerstone on which we build our careers. Confidence isn’t just feeling good and walking into work with a spring in your step; it is multifaceted. When you do not believe that you are important, able and worthy, you marginalise your chances of success.

Because of the way most women’s minds work (active, analytical, self-critical), we tend to talk ourselves down. We over-think, we allow weakness to creep in and infect our minds, and then we stop taking risks or speaking up at meetings.

Once we start acting fearlessly, the negative beliefs we hold begin to wane 


Confidence can be tricky for men, too – we all suffer from insecurities – but men don’t doubt themselves so persistently and are less likely to let it affect their work. Like peacocks, they can put on a good show – they make us believe they are great at their jobs – but the reality is that their confidence is often just shimmer and bravado.

Confidence is a state of mind. Here are our top ten steps for manufacturing it…


Even Academy Award-winning actresses are not immune to imposter syndrome. ‘I thought everybody would find out and they’d take the Oscar back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, “Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep,”’ said Jodie Foster. Lots of successful women who earn big bucks and wear slinky dresses feel like frauds in their jobs and that it is only a question of time before they are found out.

We all have that little devil in our heads. It is how comfortable you make that devil feel that will determine how destructive she is allowed to be. Women tend to combat these feelings of fraudulence by grafting really hard. To some extent this strategy can pay off. ‘As a woman, you need confidence,’ said architect Zaha Hadid. ‘So I believe in hard work; it gives you that layer of confidence. In the early years we worked all night to establish ourselves.’

But hard work alone – and in particular over-work: putting in endless hours and keeping your head down – won’t rid most of us of that sense of being an imposter. In fact, it might make things worse. You graft, you don’t get ahead and you end up feeling dispirited.

We say, rock the boat. Take hold of your career with both hands and be proud of your opinion. When you become a stronger, more powerful you, you will more easily accept that you haven’t got to where you are today by luck. You are not a fraud. You have secured your own success.


When people feel confident they exhibit lots of clues – both verbal and nonverbal – that give off an air of control, contentment and aplomb. Once we start acting fearlessly, the negative beliefs we hold about ourselves begin to wane. Our body language becomes more expansive, we intervene earlier in conversations and we work with a calmer, more relaxed attitude. Even faking confidence can make us feel more self-assured.

If that seems like a charade, that’s OK. In time, these acts of self-confidence, such as speaking up at meetings or pitching an idea to your boss, will become self-fulfilling.


However nice it feels, praise can be a cunning swine that panders to our insecurities. It is a short-term high – that shot of tequila at the end of a very long night. Most of us get hooked on praise in childhood with comments such as, ‘Isn’t she lovely?’ and, ‘What a clever girl.’ When we receive buckets of praise (misplaced or genuine), it can fuel our cravings later in life.

It isn’t so much the receiving of praise that’s the problem, but the act of seeking it out. Praise holds us back because it’s addictive. When we work in a way that does not require immediate approval, we become self-sufficient and that breeds confidence.

It is a similar story with criticism. Don’t see criticism as a put-down – think of it as a valid call to improvement. ‘If you just set out to be liked,’ said Margaret Thatcher, ‘you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.’

When praise or criticism arrives, try asking: who gave it to me? What is its purpose? Why do I need it? Praise may well be genuine, but it’s just as likely to be used as a social mechanism or a means of control. And with criticism, we know that the stuff that really sticks and hurts relates to insecurities we already hold about ourselves, whether that’s regards to our intelligence, gravitas or looks.




Whatever doesn’t break you makes you stronger – a cliché, but it’s true. Confidence can’t happen without failure. Risk is the springboard to failure and that requires confidence, but if you fail, you can learn from it. J K Rowling, in her Harvard commencement address, said: ‘It is impossible to live without failing, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case you fail by default.’

The best response to perceived failure is to ask yourself three questions: what did I learn from this situation? How can I grow as a person from this experience? What are three positives about this situation?


Perfectionism is the enemy. It makes us risk averse, kills our confidence and congests the channels of production. Humans are imperfect. Millionaire authors are imperfect. Even masters of sport, the arts, music and business make mistakes or get rejected. If you want to get to the top of Mount Confidence, you are going to have to tame that perfectionist voice – because when we lower our self-imposed expectations, we can set ourselves free.


When the words ‘assertive’, ‘woman’ and ‘work’ are used in the same sentence, the implication is often unfavourable. But don’t let that put you off. Being an assertive woman is not about being a tyrant, it is something more subtle. Assertive women stand up, absorb criticism and keep going. Assertive women drip with confidence. But assertive women aren’t always liked.

To make sure you keep everyone on side, massage in some of your natural female style, for women have a trump card: empathy. Use empathy to round the edges of the sharp tongue so that you can power forward. Don’t be daunted – assertiveness need not be a permanent state, it’s just a place you can advance to when needs be. Strong, assertive women take time to grow.


So much of confidence is control, which is why crediting luck rather than genuine know-how for our achievements is such a fatal mistake. When a woman bags a promotion, she rarely brags about it, perhaps believing – wrongly – that she just got lucky. A man, however, is more likely to attribute his success to skill. He earned his promotion – and guess what? That’s worth bragging about.

Luck is democratic so it isn’t worth dwelling on. We all get it; we all love it.

But your intelligence and aptitude, your don’t-give-a-damn resolve and your killer networking prowess are what got you where you are today. When you are able to accept and communicate these facts, your confidence – and your career – will glide elegantly forward.

To be able to truly accept your brilliance, it is worth taking a moment every week or month to step back and be objective about your recent achievements. Or try imagining how your best friend would describe your career trajectory (we’re pretty sure she wouldn’t say you’ve been lucky).


Gravitas infers authority. It isn’t about what you think or say, it’s about how you say it. Gravitas can present in many forms: poise under pressure, decisiveness, an indisputable power of persuasion. Happily, gravitas can also be an act. Caroline Goyder, a trained actress and ‘impact coach’, says the number-one gravitas blocker for many women is over-thinking, so – like an actor – you should deliver what you want to say without analysing it as you speak.

Caroline says: ‘Practise really listening to what’s being said when you are in a meeting, or to other speakers if you are waiting to make a presentation. The voice deteriorates when we are nervous, so I tell clients to get grounded before they have to present. Go for a run, do some yoga, breathe – take 15 minutes to get into your body. Don’t frantically check emails: multitasking is very anti-gravitas. We have all experienced the calm, grounded presence of extremely senior people, such as a FTSE 250 CEO who had a million things going on but, in meetings, was completely calm. She gave her full attention and that was powerful.’


The way you position your body will influence how confident you feel and how others perceive you. In her study on body language, social psychologist Amy Cuddy found that adopting a more powerful stance for two minutes (such as standing with your shoulders back, arms stretched out to the sides, chest raised) significantly increased testosterone (the dominance hormone) levels and lowered cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, and made the test subjects more attractive to prospective employers.


When we speak in a shrill voice, it suggests anxiety rather than confidence. The same goes for speaking quickly. We think our voices are stuck in their ways but we can train them into new habits. When we’re conscious about not just what we say but how we say it, we feed confidence. Try for a slow, even pace in the lower end of your register. A steady (pause) deliberate (pause) voice (pause) conveys total (pause) confidence. When we reduce the tempo we have more control over our voices. Speaking slowly relaxes the vocal chords. And turn the volume down: when you force people to strain to catch what you’re saying it encourages them to value your thoughts.

The cycle of confidence is self-perpetuating and powerful. The more you start doing and achieving, the more confident you will feel. At some point this week, try to push yourself out of your comfort zone: speak up in that meeting, be bold when it comes to new ideas, strike up a conversation with a stranger during rush hour. All too often our fears are heightened in our own minds and, as the broadcaster (and all-round success story) Kirsty Young says, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’

This is an edited extract from Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day by Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins, published by Vermilion, price £12.99. To order a copy for £10.39 (a 20 per cent discount) until 18 September, visit or call 0844 571 0640: p&p is free on orders over £15

Get The Gloss: Alice talks Balance and her Lunch Hour


May 6th 2016 / Anna Hunter /


I for one can admit that I most certainly do not make the most of my allocated lunch hour. Either I’m faffing, procrastinating or skipping it altogether. Scheduling in a pause in the day may not always be possible, but doing so can clearly pay dividends in terms of creativity, motivation and good old endurance. Step away from the spreadsheet/ sidebar of shame and take a leaf out of the following businesswomen’s books...


Alice is a co-founder of the Step Up Club, a female network that hosts unique careers events in stylish spaces. The next Club night, in association with Belvedere Vodka, will take place at The Hoxton, Shoreditch on 14th May. Step Up’s first book, published by Random House, will be out on 7th September. Alice is also a Contributing Editor at Red Magazine.

“For me, lunch hour is a fluid concept. At the moment, I spend most of my time working on the promotion around my upcoming book, Step Up, which I co-wrote with my brilliant friend Phanella. Sometimes that means we are together at lunchtime and there’s nothing better than sitting across two plates of food (and plenty of coffee) to discuss what's next for Step Up. Our book is a sassy, new take on a female career self-help and that means we also spend plenty of lunch hours talking to inspirational women. We interviewed everyone from Bobbi Brown to the Hemsley sisters, Kirsty Young and even the late Zaha Hadid, for the book and I’m incredibly lucky that my work involves meeting women who have interesting stories to share.”

“When I’m not working on Step Up, I write my fashion features from home. At those times, my lunch break usually involves a ball of mozzarella, one avocado and plenty of time on Instagram. In my ideal world, I’d be at the gym by 1pm everyday, but gym-friendly time slots are few and far between these days.”

“Usually, my work is so manic, I’m still buzzing while I eat. Now that the weather is improving, if I’m at home, I like to throw open my big back door, sit on the step and take in the garden. It’s still very much a work in progress (when we moved in, less than three years ago, the garden had disappeared beneath brambles) but I love the simplicity and beauty of watching my little plants grow and evolve. Being aware of what goes on in our garden keep me in touch with the seasons and I find that very relaxing, plus being in the garden, even just for half an hour, never involves picking up my phone which is a release in itself.”

“A lot of my work is deadline driven and there’s nothing like a blank page in a magazine to get me in a productive mood. When I’m not typing furiously on my laptop, I keep myself motivated by changing my environment. So, if I’ve been at home in the morning, I might pop into town for a few hours at my modern shared work space on Regent Street. I find this shift helps keep my mind engaged and stops distractions setting in. Other days, I just give in to the pressure and close up early. I have two young daughters, and I love stepping away from my desk and picking them up from nursery. It’s a big mental shift going straight from work mode to Mummy mode, especially as they’re more demanding than any of my previous bosses!”

“A lunch break is very important to me, mainly because I spend a good proportion of my morning working out what I’ll eat when the time comes. I love good food, and even if I’m rushing around town on appointments, I always make a slot of time for something tasty. For me, one quick plate of sushi will always trump a whole hour with a pre-prepared sandwich.”

“If I’m really rushing I’d rather wait. I’m pretty good at sustaining myself on fruit and cappuccinos until there’s a spare moment for lunch. Having said that, journalists love working breakfasts, and for me, there’s no better way to start the day than scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, preferably somewhere old-fashioned and buzzy like The Wolseley. If I’m stocked up on a hearty brunch, I can happily work through until mid afternoon. On those days, my stars feel aligned and I’m able to enjoy some kind of work/life balance.”