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Vanessa Vallely talks to Amie Muderrig about how she fought her way up to the top – in heels
It was while looking at the bright lights of London from her bedroom window that Vanessa Vallely came to a realisation.
In order to move out of the Hackney tower block she had grown up in, to leave behind endless evenings spent cleaning offices, she would have to get herself a job in the Big Smoke.
And that’s exactly what she did. Leaving school at 15 with few qualifications, she pounded the city streets until she was given work with a bank.
“I never had much of a childhood," says Vanessa. "Although I saw my dad, my mum was a single parent and so I would go to school during the day but help her in the evenings with her cleaning jobs.
“I was constantly tired, so I didn’t do too well at school.
“But I knew that if I could get work in London, I wouldn’t have to clean anymore and neither would my mum. That’s what spurred me on.“
Entrepreneurial spirit and a strong work ethic has meant that the mother-of-two, who now lives in Essex, has not only worked her way up through eight different banks, but is also the founder of networking organisation wearethecity.com and as such is one of the best-connected women in the Square Mile. Vanessa has won countless awards including top 100 influential women in finance and top 30 inspirational women in the city.
And if that wasn’t enough, she’s also the Pearly Queen of the City of London, and along with her family took part in the Olympics opening ceremony last year.
She has now charted her successes and failures in her debut novel, Heels of Steel, set to be published later this year.
“I got to a point where I was very much absorbed by the male testosterone environment I was working in,“ the 40-year-old explains. “I lost who I was as a woman, I was hungry for my career, but I wasn’t the person I should’ve been.
“Everything I’d hoped for over the last 20 years I didn’t want anymore. Working in finance, I was losing too much. I wasn’t seeing my kids or spending time with my husband. I had success, but at what cost? I might wear a beautiful suit and a wonderful handbag, but what sort of person was I becoming? I learnt quickly that women really can’t have it all.
“It was at that time a friend recommended I join a women’s network and I thought to myself I’m not doing that, they burn effigies of men and I like my bras.
“But when I researched it further, I realised there was lots of information, just not on one website. So I, along with my husband Stewart, built the website wearethecity. We lauched it in 2008, right in the recession, and people thought we were crazy. But now we have 250 writers, 3 million hits and 60,000 unique visitors a month.
“This book tracks my humble start, being bullied, growing up as the daughter of a Pearly King, working to make ends meet, and me like Dick Whittington, heading to the city to make my fortune, getting here going through a myriad of jobs and the trials and tribulations women go through, organisational changes, as well as the guilt of working versus having kids.
“It’s aimed at women aged from 25 to 35 and I hope they will benefit from my experience.“
With so many accomplishments under her belt, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Vanessa will soon hang up her heels.
“I am taking a six month sabbatical,“ she reveals, “as a family we’re looking to move to France for a period.
“But I am considering starting an academy for girls, a city boot camp.
“I can never stop, there’s so many things I want to do, you’ve not seen the last of me yet.“
Heels of Steels by Vanessa Vallely will be out later in the year