EMPLOYMENT LAWYER TO FEMALE EMPOWERMENT COACH
The hour-long group empowerment workshop has just finished, delivered by Gina Unterhalter at the plush all-female private members' club AllBright to a room of businesswomen. The talk on how to conquer limiting beliefs and unconscious self-sabotage ends to applause, and people begin to approach her with questions. She circulates the room extending her thanks to the attendees and takes a seat across from me - no pause required, she assures me, she's ready to dive into her interview. A steady smile across her face, the jubilant look of someone that has left the conventional office job and in full flow of executing her business vision.
Who has influenced a successful woman like Gina? She gives immediate credit to her mother as a glowing light of positivity and draws similarities to their work methods. Gina's mother delivered training for groups of women for Origins, Clinique and Estée Lauder, and the parallels to the previous hour's workshop are clear; supporting and empowering women.
From what she has spoken of her mother, I see she takes after her - Gina too is full of infectious, positive energy. Her positive outlook (as well as hard work) is something that has undoubtedly equipped her to achieve what she has in life. She's a qualified employment law solicitor with over ten years of commercial and legal experience working for multiple top tier law firms in central London, where she advised large corporate clients, FTSE 100 companies and C-suite executives. She also has a BSc. Hons. in Experimental Psychology and a Masters in Law and Business.
She left the legal profession to dedicate herself to empowering women, namely through money, mindset, career and business coaching. Her agenda is clear; she advocates that women should not feel ashamed of ambition, and we should all be unapologetically proud of what we strive to achieve. She practices her advice as she shares her goal to build a delicious seven-figures business.
In this interview, she talks about how she recognised her opportunity to make a transition to a personally fulfilling career, as well as her experience of leaving behind the corporate identity of a lawyer. She offers invaluable advice for those wanting to change but afraid of taking that first step.
Gina has founded The Female Empowerment Coach to enable her clients to level up, change careers, accelerate their success and increase their business growth. She is focused on helping achieve results and deliver value by coaching through all forms of transformation. She has honed her niche to complement her feminine strengths of compassion, kindness and support. Needless to say, doesn’t she shy away from challenging ideas and facing difficult topics, like the 'dirty' M-word we can all struggle to talk about - that’s right, money. She has relished the chance to tailor coaching programmes to the female needs of her clients and teaches women to harness their attributes for greatness and operate from their soul of 'feminine genius’.
I'd love you to talk me through your career journey to an empowerment coach.
Firstly, I think it's incredible what you are creating with the interview series. When women see others taking brave steps to change careers (especially out of the corporate world), it gives them the courage to do the same.
The corporate environment can feel like a safe space. I observed in the that people often stay in the rat race (excluding those that genuinely love it) and achieve for achievement's sake. It's easy to continue to chase the promotion. I've seen these people, and they aren't happy, they are stressed, it pulls their family life in all directions. That's a difficult existence to live. I didn't want to climb the corporate ladder for the sake of society's expectation of me; it's easy to do that your whole life.
I link my journey to the fact that I have always been interested in sociology and psychology. I am interested in how society and the human mind work, so I went to university in Bristol to study experimental psychology, and I absolutely loved it.
What does experimental psychology involve? Where did it take you on your career path?
The focus of experimental psychology is on cognitive neuroscience and how the brain works, and then the rest is more analytical, such as Freud, Chomsky and all those fantastic people. It was the combination of the two that made me love the course; you get to be a scientist by conducting experiments. I'm an empirical person. I love to see information backed up by evidence and proof, so not just the abstract principles.
I focused my dissertation on eating disorders, which is a subject very close to my heart. I suffered from eating disorders, and I know other people who have too. My dissertation was on body image, in particular, how men and women differ in their body image. I found that men will generally see themselves as having a better body image and woman will not. I was proud that my dissertation got published in a journal called Eating Behaviours, and at that point, I thought I was on my way to becoming a psychologist.
After this, my pre-conditioning entered, and I considered going into law. I saw this was because I come from a family of lawyers; my dad was a successful matrimonial lawyer in South Africa, and my great uncle was on Nelson Mandela's legal team. I didn't know what path to take, law felt familiar, and I wanted to make money, as it was my primary motivator in my early 20s. I went to my university supervisor for advice and said I don't know whether to continue down the clinical psychology path or practise law instead. He said if I want to make money, then I should go into law, and that's what I did.
Off I went and became a lawyer. I went down this very corporate path to becoming a private equity lawyer. I thought, what am I doing? At the last moment, I decided to change and qualify as an employment solicitor; it seemed to me to be the most human aspect of law. It was dealing with people, so I saw the combined elements of sociology and law. As I progressed through my career, it became less about dealing with the people and more about dealing with corporations and running large transactions and deals. It was so different from what I wanted to do.
Were there aspects of your job that involved coaching skills?
I was always responsible for junior lawyers. How it works in legal is, you have trainee lawyers that don't automatically qualify because they go through a whole selection process. The trainees that I coached always got jobs at the end. The clients that I coached or the CEOs I drafted the executive level employment contracts for were benefiting from our working partnership - not just the legal advice but my coaching too.
These people went on to do amazing things, it wasn't all me, but I saw how I helped. I allowed them to see the possibilities, and I challenged them to open their minds to look at things differently.
I realised that this was powerful work and I thought I'd love to coach people one day, yet I never thought that it was going to happen. I imagined it would be a side hustle as opposed to something that I could take on full-time. I was getting more miserable the longer I stayed in legal, and it wasn't where I wanted to be.
Have you been able to identify what makes you feel empowered? Do you have a role model or a support structure for advice and encouragement?
It's my mother, without question. My mother has always been a beacon of positivity, she's the most positive person you'll ever meet, and people love her. Within her circle of friends, people rely upon her. She's incredible and radiates light. She worked in cosmetics for 35-years, and she used to do a lot of presenting. She used to do something similar to group coaching, she ran Origins and Clinique for Northern Ireland, and before those roles, she ran training for ladies on the counters for the Estée Lauder brand.
It involved training and coaching, and when I was a little girl, my sister and I used to go and help set up the training rooms then sit at the back to watch - these have been a huge influence.
Both my parents are very wise, and I was blessed to have that support, so I think they became a tremendous influence. I looked up to my parents.
When did you decide enough was enough?
The place that I worked at for eight years went insolvent and 3,000 people across EUME were made redundant. I fell pregnant and I wanted time to decide my career options during my pregnancy, so I went on to another big law firm on a fixed-term contract.
During my maternity leave, I was still looking for law jobs, I was going back as a new mum asking for part-time. I was getting to the final stages of the interview processes, and everyone was telling me how incredible I was and how well I would fit in with the team, but they weren't offering me the job. It was a big warning sign as I started to wonder whether this was discrimination on the basis of my part-status and the fact that that I would need to leave at 5 pm to pick up my son, even though I would log on at home in the evening.
Once I had my son, it made me realise my mortality and everything seemed to speed up. I realised that I don't have forever, and time is something that I thought I had before. It was this stark realisation that I had to start living today. It was my opportunity to take the big leap to a new career. I knew that this was my chance; I didn't have another job to go back to, I didn't have six-figures to go back to, and I would struggle to give it up if I got locked into the salary and the benefits.
I wanted to do something meaningful that could help people. I wanted to take the leap and see where I could go. If you don't then you are being expedient and sacrificing the future for the present. If you play that across time you're going to lose. I was brave, it took courage, and I had a lot of support around me; my parents, my husband and my friends.
Some friends were saying that I was crazy, but you're going to get that reaction from some people.
How did you decide empowerment coaching was for you?
I invested a lot of money in coaching for myself because I see the value in it. When I was thinking about business ideas, I wanted to create a different product and empowerment coaching for women resonated with me.
We are taught that to succeed, women need to behave like men and that there is a certain way to act, and the path is very practical and unemotional. And that's not true.
There are generic coaching groups out there, and I wanted to create coaching programmes that focused on how women think, and talks to what makes us feminine. We feel in connection when we operate from our sole of the feminine genius.
Take me back to day one, you are no longer a practising employment lawyer, and you are starting your own company. What was the first step you took to become a female empowerment coach?
The first thing I did was incorporate a limited company, and that made it real, maybe that's the lawyer in me! It then seemed like this tangible thing. I worked on getting my necessary certifications, and I learned the skills to do the job properly. I found the right certification course and completed a course in Neuro-Linguistic Programming.
You aim to grow to a seven-figure business, have you always been able to allow yourself to have big ambitions? Have you felt any feelings of shame with setting your goals?
It's taken me a lot to get comfortable with this ambition because I thought that making millions was for other people, and not for me. This proving energy filled me, this idea that I had to prove to people that I can make my business successful and smash it.
I realised I wasn't doing it for myself. It was a negative place of judging, and I was disconnected from my purpose; I had to soul search to figure this out. I had to check myself and be clear about why I wanted to make that amount of money. My children are the reasons why and the positive emotion that drives me. I want to make that amount of money because two things are essential to me: wellness and affording an incredibly comfortable life. I want to be able to make sure my children can have the best education possible, and I want to travel the world with them.
My seven-figure goal comes from a place of ambition and aspiration. My previous belief was that making that kind of money would be incredibly stressful, and I would have to give up a lot to achieve it. The reason I no longer wanted to work in legal were the 28-hour days and the stress involved to earn a living. However, I realised that success doesn't have to be born out of stress, and it will only be the case if I allow it to be.
Did the decision to have a career change impact your sense of identity and the way you saw yourself?
It was easy for me to let go of the lawyer identity because I was never really in connection with it. It felt liberating when I decided to change careers. It was this beautiful moment of freedom because as a lawyer, I always suffered from imposter syndrome. I was doing the job of a lawyer and working on these important projects, which if they went wrong could cost a lot of money, and I felt I didn't know what I was doing. My appraisals said otherwise, and everybody was pleased with what I was doing, but I felt something different.
To come into the identity of a coach, it wasn't so easy. I had to assume the title of coach shortly after being a lawyer for so many years. My coach said to me, you have been coaching people for years, but you just called yourself a lawyer.
The most significant identity shift for me before this time was becoming a mummy to a little boy, and it was during my maternity leave that I decided to spend the year getting my coaching certifications. The identity shift was a slow burn because it was such a big change.
It was a great thing to make the decision that put me on my new path - the decision can be the biggest thing. It's about allowing yourself to ask questions, such as, who am I and what am I doing?
The working world is moving towards jobs that didn't exist five or ten years ago. Traditionally we have been given official job titles by our employers, and now we can pave our way to new careers where we decide our work identity. I think it can feel scary to make that change from the traditional job working for a company.
I agree, and that's a beautiful way of summing it up because our whole lives we wait for people to give us acknowledgement and instructions. When it's something that you sow for yourself, it feels very unnatural.
It also goes against perfectionism priming as women because we are taught to be perfect, liked and agreeable. We tend to fall in line and maintain the status quo. Identity is about breaking away from the herd, which triggers every fight or flight response in your subconscious. Once you disassociate yourself from what society says is so, it can feel wrong, but there is nothing wrong with that decision.
I think the key questions people need to be asking themselves is, am I doing something meaningful and am I being of service? If your answer is yes, then who cares what you call yourself. You carry on to the best of your ability, living and working towards where you want to be - eventually, it will come.
What's the biggest thing that you've learned from having a coach yourself?
The biggest thing I've learned from investing in coaching is to allowing myself to be challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone - that's what a great coach will do. I've learned not to be fearful of going deep and not be afraid of saying what needs to be said.
When people come to my coaching sessions, they're not paying me to be their friend or to like them, but they're paying me to help them get results. A good coach will ask you questions that are going to make you squirm because if you aren't able to deal with these issues, you're unable to move forward. People using a coach want to make more money, grow their business, get funding or meet a specific goal.
At what time should someone consider an empowerment or career coach?
At the point that they are feeling scared, have self-doubt and fixate on the reasons why you shouldn't act. Even when you feel like you can, the powerful thing about coaching is that it's meant to challenge you, open yourself up and hold you accountable.
Find a coach when you have an inkling that you want to transform, and even more so if you're starting to talk yourself out of your transformation. It's crucial that a person is open and willing to be coached because not everybody is coachable. You can always have an initial call with a coach to see if it is right for you.
My coaching principles are vested in positive psychology. Before coaching existed, psychology looked at the clinical aspects, such as anxiety and depression etc. and focused on people's limitations. My coaching is focusing on the greatness of people and their unlimited potential.
A great coach will challenge you to understand what your identity is, challenge what your belief systems are and challenges you to get clear on the outcome you want and the decisions you're making and your actions.
A great coach needs to understand where you have come from to understand the motivations behind where you are going, but we don't live there. We take what we can get from the past and become cognisant of the reasons why you are acting in a certain way, so we move forward. We put in place mechanisms and strategies to allow you to get clear on your paths and how you can achieve what you want.
If you have a clinical issue (such as anxiety and depression, etc.), these need to be dealt with by a medical professional and proper clinical techniques. As a coach, I would refer you on to somebody to receive the right help.
What advice would you give somebody afraid to take a step towards a career change or moving onto the next thing?
Fear is such an interesting thing, particularly as women, we are plagued by fear and self-doubt. I would say to ask yourself, what if self-doubt was no longer an option for me, what would I do?
The answer will be I'd make the change and do what I want to do. Then you should ask yourself, what do I need to make that change? You need to find your source of courage to take action. The way you do that is to think of yourself positively and see that there's only one of you - you are unique and have a special gift to offer to the world. That's the truth. You need to find comfort in that and remind yourself of the reasons you want to change.
It's acknowledging the fear, but you have to find a way to let it go. The way you let it go is by being confident in what you have to offer and go for it. What's the worst thing that can happen?
It might not work out, but that's okay, you can try a different way. Make sure you don't do yourself a disservice and underestimate the impact that you can make. Keeping your purpose locked away can make you unhappy, and time goes by so fast. It sounds morbid but think of yourself on your deathbed and think of what you would say to yourself if you didn't try this out. Ask, if you don't do this, would that be okay?
I wanted to finish on the positives from making your career change and the impact on your wider life.
I realised that one of my most important values is freedom, and I never really thought it was. Stepping away from the corporate work gave me the freedom to choose when I work, what I do, and how I do it.
When you have a 9 - 5 (or 9 - midnight) job, people are effectively paying you for your life. It is incredibly empowering to step away from that, but it does mean you have to be disciplined, structured and persistent.
The corporate world wasn't for me, but I learnt so much, it gave me the skills and the ability to do what I'm doing now. If I didn't follow my career path, I wouldn't be who I am now. The critical point is, don't look back on what you've done with regret; yes, it didn't make you happy, but that's okay to change it. In the workplace, you learn resilience, soft-skills, time-management, project-management, leadership, influence, impact and so many essential things that you can use when starting your own business or transitioning to the creative space.
Those ten years were invaluable, but I'm glad to be moving forward.
I think that's a fantastic note to end on, thank you so much.
You're so welcome, thank you!