HOBBS WOMAN

KATE STEPHENS

CEO, SMART WORKS

SHOP WORKWEAR

Kate Stephens joined Smart Works – a charity that dresses and coaches unemployed women to succeed in interviews – with the aim to make their services available nationwide. Now with eight branches and the Duchess of Sussex as patron, they're well on track to achieving that mission. She tells us how clothes can powerfully impact a woman's confidence and shares her personal goals for the future.

CEO, SMART WORKS

SHOP WORKWEAR

Kate Stephens, CEO of the charity Smart Works, tells us how clothes can impact a woman's confidence and shares her goals for the future.

1. How did you become CEO of Smart Works?

I spent the first 16 years of my career at a political and marketing consultancy. In that time, it grew from a small firm to one of the largest PR agencies in the UK. Alongside my work there I also became a trustee, then vice chair of a family charity. I was incredibly passionate about the work we did and found myself more and more drawn to the charity sector. So when the opportunity arose to lead Smart Works, I took the plunge and made it my full-time career.

1. How did you become CEO of Smart Works?

I spent the first 16 years of my career at a political and marketing consultancy. In that time, it grew from a small firm to one of the largest PR agencies in the UK. Alongside my work there I also became a trustee, then vice chair of a family charity. I was incredibly passionate about the work we did and found myself more and more drawn to the charity sector. So when the opportunity arose to lead Smart Works, I took the plunge and made it my full-time career.

2. What can a client expect when they come to Smart Works?

We offer each client a two-hour appointment, where she receives an interview outfit and an hour of one-to-one interview coaching.

When many of our clients arrive at Smart Works, their confidence is low. There may be personal circumstances holding them back from showing their potential in interviews – a third have been turned down from over fifty jobs. So it's common they feel apprehensive about what the next few hours will bring. But after seeing themselves in the mirror in their chosen outfit, the changes are visible. They stand taller, smile brighter and believe in themselves, often for the first time in a long time.

When they leave us, armed with their new clothing and the advice they have gained, we hope they feel inspired, prepared, capable and most of all confident.

"FROM THE MOMENT A WOMAN WALKS INTO SMART WORKS, I WANT HER TO FEEL THAT WE HAVE HER BACK AND WE’RE ROOTING FOR HER TO SUCCEED."

3. Has the interview process and dress code changed since Smart Works began?

It's constantly evolving but self-belief remains the most important thing. Interviewers pick up on when you’re feeling confident and knowing your value is key to that. Also, preparation – knowing who you’re speaking to, understanding the values of the organisation you’re interviewing with, and what you can bring to that job – are all essential.

At Smart Works, it's important to us that each dressing session is tailored to the client and the job. What may be suitable for a woman interviewing for a receptionist role in a bank may not be suitable for someone who is going for an internship in a tech company. We are lucky to have a vast selection of workwear from generous retail partners, so we can accommodate every client’s personal style and the opportunity at hand.

3. Has the interview process and dress code changed since Smart Works began?

It's constantly evolving but self-belief remains the most important thing. Interviewers pick up on when you’re feeling confident and knowing your value is key to that. Also, preparation – knowing who you’re speaking to, understanding the values of the organisation you’re interviewing with, and what you can bring to that job – are all essential.

At Smart Works, it's important to us that each dressing session is tailored to the client and the job. What may be suitable for a woman interviewing for a receptionist role in a bank may not be suitable for someone who is going for an internship in a tech company. We are lucky to have a vast selection of workwear from generous retail partners, so we can accommodate every client’s personal style and the opportunity at hand.

4. What are the go-to pieces in your work wardrobe?

While I was working at the Palace of Westminster, suits were my staple. But since I've discovered the power of a dress, I've never looked back. It's simple, effective dressing at its best. Easy to accessorise, you can dress it up or down and it's one less thing to think about in the morning – which in a house of five busy family members all heading in different directions, is a huge advantage.

My grandmother used to make me the most incredible clothes, and I have never forgotten that feeling when you wear something created with love. Sadly, I no longer have my own designer, but I always try to find expertly made pieces. Whether it’s a great coat or a comfortable pair of Mary Jane shoes, there is something special about having beautiful pieces I will wear again and again. We have the same aspirations for our clients’ wardrobes and thanks to Hobbs' donations, we can provide the women we see with quality pieces too.

"SMART WORKS IS FULL OF MOMENTS OF CELEBRATION; ALMOST DAILY THE PHONE WILL RING WITH NEWS THAT A CLIENT HAS GOT THE JOB, AND THIS ALWAYS MAKES MY DAY."

5. What have been the highlights of your career so far?

There have been so many special moments worth celebrating, but this year has been particularly special. We opened our newest centre in Leeds this year (I am from West Yorkshire, so it was wonderful to bring the service home), as well as celebrating our busiest ever month in March 2019. We have now helped over 15,000 women across the UK and our centres are thriving.

This year also marked the announcement of HRH Duchess of Sussex as our Royal Patron, whose commitment to our cause and natural empathy with the women we support has been inspirational. The Duchess’s support has meant we’ve been able to help more women than ever before, and we are excited for what lies ahead.

5. What have been the highlights of your career so far?

There have been so many special moments worth celebrating, but this year has been particularly special. We opened our newest centre in Leeds this year (I am from West Yorkshire, so it was wonderful to bring the service home), as well as celebrating our busiest ever month in March 2019. We have now helped over 15,000 women across the UK and our centres are thriving.

This year also marked the announcement of HRH Duchess of Sussex as our Royal Patron, whose commitment to our cause and natural empathy with the women we support has been inspirational. The Duchess’s support has meant we’ve been able to help more women than ever before, and we are excited for what lies ahead.

6. When and where are you happiest?

Spending time with family and friends; whether its heading back to the countryside with my family for a weekend with my mum in Yorkshire, or spending time with old friends.

We are all so busy, and have so many “hangers on” these days (my husband’s term for the partners and many children we seem to have accumulated!) but it makes it even more special, and chaotic, when we are all together.

7. What are your goals for the future?

Smart Works is at such an exciting stage in its journey, and we want to welcome more women to our centres across the UK. I want any woman who needs our help to be able to find her way to a Smart Works centre so there is still so much that we need to do.

8. What piece of advice do you live by?

Be kind; to others and to yourself. Accept that there will be ups and downs in your career and try not to compare yourself too harshly to others. And most importantly of all, “Do what you love”.

7. What are your goals for the future?

Smart Works is at such an exciting stage in its journey, and we want to welcome more women to our centres across the UK. I want any woman who needs our help to be able to find her way to a Smart Works centre so there is still so much that we need to do.

8. What piece of advice do you live by?

Be kind; to others and to yourself. Accept that there will be ups and downs in your career and try not to compare yourself too harshly to others. And most importantly of all, “Do what you love”.

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