Podcast #15 Sarah Bearpark – Her Return to Work in STEM

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Sarah is a chartered civil engineer and mother of three amongst many other things. She started her career working for Mott MacDonald, an international multi-disciplinary engineering consultancy. After two maternity leaves, upon returning to work part-time, she felt very differently. The demands at home had increased significantly, the work offered less satisfying. A return to work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) proved too challenging…at first.

Sarah took a career break to be with her family and had a third child. She then spent five years working as sustainability manager with a tertiary institution. Sarah amassed a very different but valuable set of transferrable skills.

When contemplating how to return to work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) she seized an opportunity to apply for career coaching. Sarah also went for a returnship through Women Returners.

After two other attractive job offers, Sarah chose to return to Mott MacDonald as a Principal Environmental Consultant. She managed a programme of environmental surveys, hydraulic modelling and archaeology along part of the HS2 route. 

The culture at Mott MacDonald has changed alot in the years she was away. Part -time work is valued, and she has both male and female colleagues working part-time and/or flexibly. With its emphasis on inclusion, Mott MacDonald has just launched a pilot returners programme with Women Returners.

In 2018 she was voted a Timewise Power Returner, and you can listen to our interview here to get a good sense of why!

Timings highlighted for key points in the interview.

A brief intro from Sarah:

1.00 Did a civil and environmental engineering degree, after I finished degree I worked for Mott McDonald until my first career break

1.24 Balance had totally tipped form having one child to two children, stayed home

How long was that break?

1.4 Four years during which I had a third child, then I got the job at a further education college. I was Curriculum Leader for Sustainable Development,  

Then I moved internally to be the Environment Sustainability Manager for the college

The Journey Back to Power Returner Was not Easy

3.00 It  was a tough time took a while to recover my health, then when I did I decided to focus on the family

3.30 Having made the decision about returning to work I mean it is just

terrifying, my confidence was low,

I had no network, hadn’t kept in touch with people I ‘d worked with…. partly because I didn’t feel I had anything to talk to them about,

4.27 I found Women Returners…incredibly inspiring

Sarah kept up her professional memberships during her break:

5.20 Still unsure, but into my inbox an email arrived from the Institute of Civil Engineers ( kept up my membership during my break ) offering career coaching,I applied and was accepted. Really key for me getting back to where I am today

Coaching was key for getting Sarah back to where she is today

5.50 I wanted someone to tell me what I should do which didn’t happen at all

6.15 Talked about my priorities. Because I had a health problem. I didn’t want to overload myself and risk my health, so family and health where my number one priorities

How Sarah ascertained what work was right

I signed up to Indeed to pick out jobs that appealed to me.  I couldn’t see a common theme but…

7.00 Coach was spot on. I saw a role as sustainability engineer, during that process. I went for that

8.22 First section of CV after my personal details were these lines: technical skills, leadership, and then on the back page it did still have the dates I was in the job

They could see I had had a career break but only after they thought: “Wow she has all these skills!” Then they are less concerned about the career break!

9.00 That was one of the most terrifying things; will I know how to do things?

Very quickly…what was I worried about! I ‘ve always been able to do this!

What parts of Sarah’s role truly light her up?

9.30 My advice would be always be to follow your interests.

10.00 I had taken on a voluntary team manger role at the local food bank – really key, when I had my interview at Motts we discussed that a lot, the fact that I had leadership in various settings

How Sarah handled job search rejection:

12.00 So I developed this CV and Applied for Sustainability Engineering role….just radio silence, I just thought they are not interested in me!

13.4 How did you keep yourself buoyed up during that time?

13.5 In between coaching sessions I could message my coach (who said) “This is common”…so I tried to keep it in perspective it ‘s really hard to persevere

 Sarah went for an informational interview with a friend

14.4 I thought, what I would ideally like is Mott McDonald because we chose where to live when I worked there before!

15.03 (She called her old boss at Motts) and said “my job search is progressing I’ve got two interviews but what I would really love is to work with Mott McDonald”

15.30 All in the same week that all played out, I came away with 2 job offers, based on hours I wanted…not too overwhelmed

15.58 How did you say, “This is the balance that I need”?

Opportunity cost of a company who will not offer flexible working (17.00)

17.36 I am really impressed with how boundaried you’ve been… I know that some of that has been out of necessity

18.16 Something that we, particularly as women, can very easily forget that we can’t continue to give and give and it might take a little bit longer but..(this) is how to secure a role in which you flourish

18.55 What is lighting you up about the job you have?

What it is it that you have done that makes you a Timewise power returner?

20.00 Role it’s my interests it fits my skills and background the company and the team I’m in really encourage flexibility..we are doing a Smart working trial

I do think, if I was having my second child now, and coming back off mat leave, would I have found it so hard?

21.13 What were hardest parts tactically and logistically…of returning to work?

22.00 Can someone prepare for a career break?

22.30 Difficult to update my Linked in profile, what do you put when you are on a career break?

We just very generally as women are not that fantastic at saying…”this is what I am this is what I do. I’m great at it”.

23.00 As an engineer, You’ve taken part in Initiatives back into STEAM –would you share on initiatives?

24.06 What about mentoring have you had some successful experiences of?

Being mentored or mentoring you?

24.46 I also act as mentor to several people within Mott McDonald, following internal publicity about the Power Returner award

25.09 Boundaries –as a part time worker you can’t do the same

25.30 I am comfortable with saying no when I get too much work…It’s about putting your hand up and saying this is it I can’t do any more…I’ve got too much

It’s ok not to be perfect!

What is it you enjoy about Mott McDonald?

26.55 I really enjoy the challenge of it, each engineering project is different, even though there are certain methodologies – I really like that it is varied and different

Sarah’s inspiring words or advice drawn on in her return to work in STEM.

27.26 On my first day, I sat down with my line manager….one of the first people who interviewed me at Mott McDonald. Told me on my first day what had attracted her to me..

Interestingly all paths led to Mott McDonald but you just needed to build up your confidence ’til you thought “actually if I’m doing this, why don’t I just go back to the place that works” for you the most…what an awesome ambassador you are for STEM, Women Returners and flexible agile working

Listen to this Comeback Girl interview for another return to work in STEM:

Sarah’s employer’s website

the Women Returners campaign for Mott Macdonald (live now!)

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