Welcome to Stride!
Updated: Mar 31
We sat down with Sophie, creator of STRIDE, to talk about this new platform, great bosses, crazy requests, and why all women starting off in the world of work deserve to be supported.
Hi Sophie! Let’s start at the beginning - what inspired you to set Stride up?
So, Stride has been in the back of my head for a really long time. The very first job I got out of uni was in recruitment and it was punishing; I hated it. I have a really strong memory of being told I couldn't attend a meeting unless I was wearing a skirt and heels. It was a very uncomfortable request to get - and it came from a woman. So I thought, “oh I must be dressing horribly!”
I had no idea that it was a ridiculous request, and I was nowhere near brave enough to say no. I had the impression that they’d done this amazing favour by employing me. And that’s a trend that I've heard repeated by other women over the years.
I feel like there needed to be a moment before a young woman enters the workplace when you’re told ‘these are the things you can ask for’ and ‘these are the things it’s not OK for your employer to do.’ I think that, because of traits commonly fostered in boys - the assertive vs bossy dichotomy - that men tend have a better sense of what they can or can’t get from work, and are more willing to asset themselves early on in their career, and push back against expectations. Of course, this is not going to be true in all cases - but it's something I've come across time and again.
Was there an exact point where you realised that young women can be better prepared for what they should expect from the world of work? Or do you think it was more a steady change?
I think it’s been a steady change. I’ve had a couple of career changes; I’ve very much grown in my confidence and my professional abilities. For instance - it feels a bit regressive to bring up fashion in the context of women’s careers, but I think I’ve also become much more comfortable in creating my own professional style - dressing in a style that is faithful to me but looks really professional. It was freeing when I realised I could dress how I wanted and still completely do my job, and it allowed me to be my authentic self at work, which boosted my confidence hugely.
But, it also made me think back to how I was treated and made me realise how irresponsible it was of my seniors to put me in a position where I was asked to dress in a way that made me uncomfortable. Looking back it’s clearly wrong - but sometimes it’s not until you’ve been through something like that that you know to look out for it.
That said, I do get the sense that teenagers and uni students are a lot more aware of that kind of thing than I was! I don't think many of the teenagers I know would have put up with that situation - they're way more tuned into feminist movements, and I think have a better sense of their rights. I may have been quite naive - but naivety shouldn’t be exploited.
What were the positive influences on your career? Did you have a company that treated you particularly well or a mentor figure that really stepped up?
There have been so many. I have been really lucky, especially when I moved to work in the heritage sector. My first employer in heritage took me on when I was doing my masters and this amazing woman, who headed up their heritage team, understood that I was studying part time but working full-time. She helped me balance those commitments and she found CPD (continuing professional development) opportunities for me to go to.
Similarly, when I transferred to work at a company in London, as part of my company’s mentor scheme I was assigned an amazing female mentor who helped me through so many things, personal and professional. I had really bad workplace anxiety at the time and she was phenomenal. I can't emphasise enough the impact she had on me while I was working there.
I was also really lucky before work, while growing up. One of my cousins went to university to study biomedical science and went onto have this amazing job in pharmaceuticals afterwards. She's travelled pretty much the whole world! I think to have someone who, out the corner of your eye, you’re always looking up, to is really amazing.
Are there any characteristics or qualities you think are shared by all three of the women you just named that made them a particularly great boss or person to look up to?
I think all of them seemed very confident, which is obviously hugely reassuring if you’re going to someone for advice! But more importantly, they made time for me. They all approached me and provided support and advice, and they did that freely and generously. I think that’s the key thing.
Obviously I’ve had great male influences in my career as well. My Dad is a phenomenal influence in my life and I had one boss in particular who was the kindest, sweetest man. He was really supportive and helped me get professional accreditation.
I think the thing in common to all those people is the generosity of time and knowledge they all had.
It sounds like they were very respectful too!
Absolutely! There’s never been a sense with any of them that because I was a woman or young or new to a sector that I wasn’t deserving of being invested in!
And what goals do you have for Stride in the long run?
I want there to be more of a national conversation, and more resources, for women going into their first job.
Maybe they’re following a career path that no-one in their family has gone down before; they don’t necessarily have a network or a way in. I want there to be a resource where a mentor can say “Have you seen this website? Have you heard this podcast?” and women will be able to know that they’re getting advice that’s real and reliable.
In my work, I’ve been lucky enough to see projects on apprenticeships, retraining, and advice for people who are turning to teaching after they’ve had a career in a different sector. I think there are themes of advice that are common for women in these situations, I want to amplify advice for early career women, and make that support accessible.
And that seems to be touched on by the name of the organisation, Stride!
For me, the word ‘stride’ has so many interesting connotations. There are the suffragettes linking their arms and walking together - but you don’t think of them as walking. You think of them as striding. It’s very much a, ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ kind of thing!
Taking baby steps isn’t enough. You don’t want to take baby steps into your career. You don’t want to be nervous. You want to be empowered. You want to go in with the full confidence that you deserve a career. For me, striding is what you should do from the start. Set the pattern for the rest of your career.