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…

Step Up by Phanella Mayall Fine & Alice Olins

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)

For more visit step-up-club.net or follow them on Twitter and Facebook

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