After leaving her role as a Brigadier in the Army, Sara joined Deloitte Consulting as a Director, to support our defence technology projects. We speak to her about life in and out the Army, and how she makes the flexible working environment work for her.
Joining the Army
As a child, Sara loved sports and the outdoors. Whether it was playing hockey, climbing trees or mountaineering, keeping active always made her happy. When she graduated from university in 1991 and had a chat with a careers’ representative from the military, the Army seemed like a perfect fit. Just nine months after that first discussion, she found herself in army training at Sandhurst. “I joined the Royal Signals which was one of a very few units that accepted women but the standards and offer was still different, a shorter commission and I had to have a technical degree unlike my male colleagues. It was though a very different army back then, I even had to leave if I fell pregnant. Discrimination was quite normal then but reflected society.”
A new challenge
Over time, the Army became an increasingly positive place for women to work, and Sara took on many different roles, mainly in telecommunications. She gained the rank of Brigadier in 2017. “The Army offers a huge range of roles - I did all sorts from training new recruits to leading teams providing communications systems in Bosnia and Iraq, working with our reserve forces and writing strategy. In the past eight years I moved into capability solutions like Cloud and supporting the delivery of IT services. I am a Chartered Engineer and always been a techie.”
After 30 years of Army life (and house moves) , she began to search for new challenges, that would allow her to have a better work/life balance. “I was married and have two daughters who were going to be starting high school soon. I felt like we needed some stability and to put down roots after so much moving around.” She announced her decision to leave the Army, and was immediately approached by one of her contacts from Deloitte last year. “As part of my role in the military, I’d built up relationships with many people in different private and government organisations and I was approached with a few offers,” she explains. “I chose Deloitte because of their fantastic reputation. They also didn’t have a huge footprint in digital projects in defence and that gave me an opportunity to make a real difference.”
Flexible, inclusive working
Since joining the firm, Sara has taken on a flexible position, working four days every other week. This gives her the time she needs to support her family, while allowing her to make a positive impact at the firm. “After working solidly for 30 years and being sent off anywhere, I wanted a bit more control over my work and life,” she says. “Now I can, when working from home, pick up my children from school or go to an event with them and then start work again. The dog is also enjoying the company.” It leaves her more time to care for elderly parents and pursue hobbies, including coaching an under 12s hockey team at the weekends.
Sara likes that she’s able to continue doing interesting and engaging work, without feeling compelled to have a life that revolves around her job. “I’m a full time Mum right now and they are my priority. But when my children get older I might feel differently about my goals. Deloitte offers me the flexibility to prioritise family without compromising my credibility for the future. Being comfortable in that mindset also enables me to help and guide others and support them to get recognition for the projects we work on.”
She enjoys the inclusivity of the firm, and believes that attitudes in the workplace towards women are positive. “The step change in the attitude to menopause is such a relief. I am fortunate in that my symptoms are mild though still affecting me in small ways,” she says. “Occasionally I forget a name or get flushed. You never feel like you have to hide these things, you can be open and just say what it is. Everyone will support you, whatever the situation, and there’s an understanding that we might all be going through different things.”
Through her career, Sara has actively supported the development and use of technology in defence. Last year she was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for her services during the covid crisis. She was responsible for heading up the team that made up the Agile Delivery Cell, making possible the delivery of rapid new services to enable Defence to digitally support the NHS. As well as being named as one of the most influential women in tech by Computer Weekly, Sara is also an Ambassador for WISE, which focuses on gender equality in the STEM sectors, and an advisor for the Common Mission Project, which is creating an international network of entrepreneurs. “They go into universities, and support students to devise tech-based solutions to real world problems,” she explains. “For example, coming up with a way for the Navy to incentivise people to keep fit. Each student has a different project and I really enjoy mentoring these.”
Something for everyone
For now, Sara is enjoying the present and looking forward to what the future will bring. “I am still ambitious for the future,” she says. “But right now I am happy making a difference where I am.” She believes that allowing people room to take their foot off the accelerator is the key to maintaining happiness at work, and building better and more productive careers in the long-term. “Whether you’re passionate about sport, you’re caring for parents or you have young children, you might need to jog rather than sprint sometimes, and that’s OK at Deloitte. I am encouraged by seeing senior male and female colleagues taking sabbaticals, and helping out at their children’s schools. It feels like things are levelling out and we have more space to be ourselves.”