Step Up Club – Phanella Mayall Fine & Alice Olins

Continuing with my January self-improvement theme, Step Up is the other book I picked up at the careers event where I found Gravitas. It’s along the same kind of lines of bettering one’s own career (well, obviously – that was the theme of the whole day!) but with a slightly different focus. Whereas Gravitas is for anyone and everyone who wants to have more presence when they speak, Step Up is very much aimed at women at work.

The authors – both working women, both mothers, both with very different styles of work – have approached the book from the premise of embracing one’s femininity first and foremost. They take the principles espoused by Lean In and its ilk, and reframe them: women (they say) should not – and do not have to – try to emulate and imitate men in order to get ahead. Don’t try to beat the boys’ clubs at their own game; rather, borrow some of the helpful techniques that men often learn from each other without compromising your own authenticity, values, and personality.

This is a principle that’s right in my feminist wheelhouse!

As a reading experience, I found this book quite tough going. In fairness, though, I think that’s because I much prefer reading fiction – as I spoke about in my last post on Gravitas, the fact that I didn’t zoom though the book in one afternoon is not (in my eyes) a reflection on the usefulness or quality of the book, but rather that I’m pushing myself outside of my reading comfort zone this month. Also, you’re not actually supposed to zoom through this particular book!

No, this is a book to take in small bite size chunks. Each chapter is focused on a particular area/skill set/category (there are chapters on dressing for success, defining your own success, networking, etc) and each contains a ‘workout’ that has been designed to take only ten minutes.  It’s a really practical book. I didn’t try a lot of the workouts yet… but I will, because they’re good and I can see that they’re good even without having put them into practice just yet. Also, because I just got a new job in a completely new sector and I’m still settling in, so I’m not too worried about a career rut just yet!

Some quick reflections on Step Up:

  • I might have enjoyed reading it a bit more if it had more feminist theory and nuance, and spent a bit more time unpicking the various issues and challenges. However, I know that many (many many) readers will enjoy it infinitely more because it doesn’t! It’s a toolkit, not a study guide.
  • The chapter on style (fashion, dressing for success, whatever) made my hackles rise at some points. I think it’s just such a loaded topic, and it obviously touched a nerve. Still, in a book by women, for women, about breaking the glass ceiling… why tell women not to unbutton their blouses too far without acknowledging the hypersexualisation and objectification of the female form?
  • I really loved how often the authors came back to the central point of unique authenticity. All the way through, they kept bringing their points back to self-confidence, knowing what works for you, knowing your own style, not comparing yourself to others. The first chapter is even going back to the basics of defining what success means to you, as opposed to some blanket Wolf of Wall Street definition. They were very clear in that what works for some women will not work for others – and that’s awesome.

Ultimately, I’m glad I have this, and I plan to lend it out to friends. Some parts may be somewhat problematic for me, but I know I will definitely pick up this toolkit of a book again – albeit picking and choosing which tools to use and when.

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