Founders of Step Up Club, Alice Olins & Phanella Mayall Fine


Alice and Phanella are the fresh, new voices in the women’s career conversation. The pair sit at either ends of the creative/corporate spectrum and know that it’s just as valid to aspire to career contentment, as it is to want to become the next CEO.

The Step Up Club is the new go – to commentator on women’s careers. Through its weekly newsletter, inspiring blog, stylish events and recently published book (Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day, Penguin Random House) Alice and Phanella are changing – and improving – the conversation around women’s careers. Their latest venture, Step Up School, is a year long life changing programme that empowers students to supercharge their careers.

The Step Up Club has a monthly Get The Gloss column, is Karen Millen’s new work style brand ambassador and is regularly quoted in the press. They work with a big range of brand partners include Smashbox Cosmetics, Aromatherapy Associates and Hoxton Hotels.

Alice Olins
Alice has worked at or written for nearly all of the country’s broadsheets and women’s glossies. Having spent a decade at The Times as its Senior Fashion writer, followed by a stint as Marie Claire’s Fashion Features Director and then Fashion Features Director at Red magazine. Alice continues to write on a freelance basis across a range of publications.

Phanella Mayall Fine
Phanella began her career as a finance lawyer working in London and New York before taking her CFA and moving to manage European Equities funds at JPMorgan. Today, she is an Accredited Executive Coach and development consultant. Working globally, she coaches and trains clients to feel more confident, present better, lead authentically and progress their careers.


Describe a typical day for you?


Things are growing so quickly for us, every day is different. The average day for each of us starts with a family breakfast before dropping our kids at their respective schools. We’re all about productivity, so generally we try to separate our time into out and about, meeting days and desk based days when we focus on our blog, newsletter and events.

On a typical meeting day, we might meet potential brand partners for coffee, before heading back to our co-working space to take calls and emails.  On a desk day, we work from home (alternating between each others’ houses). Lunchtimes are sacred and we alternate between a joint gym class or just sitting down to a healthy meal. We find our best ideas often come when we look up from our desks and just talk.

Balance is so important to us both. We work into the afternoon and then head off to collect our kids. If we don’t have a dinner to attend, we’ll often log back on in the evenings but always switch off by 9pm to relax before bed.


What do you feel are your biggest achievements?


As a mother, it goes without saying that I take huge pride in my kids. But in a work sense, I am definitely proudest of starting Step Up. After my maternity leave, I left banking with my confidence in tatters. I honestly didn’t see how I could rebuild it again. It has taken a while – and couldn’t have happened without Alice – but I now run a business about which I am totally passionate and fit that around my life. When I look at the year ahead – our upcoming partnership with Karen Millen, Step Up School – and the huge plans we have beyond that, I really do feel proud.


Well, like Phanella, family always comes first. I’m proud to be Mummy to our two special girls, and our son too, Bear who we lost at birth. Life can be hard, and I’m proud of myself, that I have managed the ups and downs with as much pride and honesty as I can. In terms of work, I still get a thrill seeing my name in a newspaper, or on the glossy pages of a magazine. I still feel that it is a huge honour to be able to get my opinion out in the public domain – and I’m an opinionated woman! And then, of course, there’s Step Up. Our shared baby! It all started with a glass of wine each on a summer’s evening, and now we are growing at a rate that we can barely keep up with. A book, a business, our own Step Up school, there is nothing like building a business from scratch to focus the mind and heart. I love it – I’m also hugely proud of Phanella and my working relationship: we’re always laughing, we’re hugely productive and we’ve made real headway in the women’s careers sphere that so desperately needed attention.


What’s in your handbag/ satchel?


Red lipstick (always. Current favourite Smashbox Fireball Matte). Phone (more often glued to my hand). Cards. Keys. Old receipts. Ipad Pro. Tangle of chargers, wires and headphones (podcast addict). Baby wipes. Organix cereal bar for school run emergencies. Papier notebook. Multiple pens. Loose change. I am the ‘organised one’ but my handbag is anything but.


A lot of mess! Ha, by bags are an amalgamation of both sides of my life, so next to my Anya Hindmarch wallet and precious Smythson Soho diary (I literally could not live without this, I have them going back years and years), I Shopkins toys and plenty of sparkly hairclips. Usually there’s always a pair of statement earrings in the back pocket that come in handy when I’m rushing to a meeting!


What are your ambitions in life?


My ambitions are simple: to continue to nurture my family and grow Step Up. Most of all, to have fun in life and work. And take plenty of holidays along the way!


To be happy. To always feel mentally challenged. To mother our daughters into strong, independent and kind women. To laugh more than I feel stressed.


What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?


I wish I had known that you can be successful in any field if you combine passion with resilience and drive. I went into the corporate world, choosing the ‘best’ law firms and banks because that was the definition of success I saw around me. But it didn’t fit my personality or interests at all. I feel so lucky to have found the right career for me now but so many of the women I coach still feel pressured by biased definitions of success. If I can instil one thing in my kids, it will be to do what you enjoy.


That the most important part of career fulfilment is what’s going on inside your head. When you can be self-aware, resilient, tap your confidence and not compare yourself to others, you can achieve anything that you want.


Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?


In 5 years time, Step Up School will be running across the country and online. The rest of our work will have grown alongside and we’ll be helping people around the world find success and happiness on their terms. If we’ve been truly successful, inflexible organisations and rigid career paths will be on their way out. And my life will continue much as it does now although with older (and no doubt more opinionated) children.


What she said!


What advice would you give a budding entrepreneur and author?


Yes You Can. We are great believers in just starting and seeing where it gets you. Say yes, take the plunge, pitch your book. You never know where it might lead.


What’s the best advice you’ve received on motherhood you’d like to share?


You won’t be a perfect mother. You will only be good enough. And it’s okay. Luckily, children only need a mother who loves them unconditionally and tries her best. It took me a while to get out of the perfectionist corporate mindset when I became a Mum, but when you take the pressure off yourself to be perfect, suddenly it becomes a lot more fun.


I’m not sure about the best advice I’ve been given, but the best thing I’ve learnt: motherhood is an ever changing, hugely challenging and extra special journey that has imbued in me humility, strength, pain and joy. It has altered me for the better and there is nothing – absolutely nothing – in life as precious as my children.


Finally, happiness is…


Calmness. Naked children kisses. A gin and tonic. Tears of laughter with my girlfriends. Expensive shoes. Married hand holding. Waking up after an uninterrupted night’s sleep!


Long Summer afternoons in the garden with my kids. Dinner with my husband on a Friday night. Laughing the way you only can with old friends. Meeting new friends who it feels you have known forever. Holidays – anywhere, anytime.


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