Back to work as a field services development engineer

Sally McLaughlin speaks to about how she got back on the career ladder after a 10-year break and how her latest role at Schneider Electric utilises her wide business experience.

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Sally McLaughlin took a 10-year break from a career in sales and has gradually built her way back up to her current position in global energy management organisation Schneider Electric.

Despite having no background in technology, her skills in communications and problem-solving and her years of business experience in a raft of different businesses mean she has been able to thrive as a field services development engineer.

She says Schneider’s openness to those with different and non-linear career pathways has been a big part of her success.

Before her career break Sally worked in financial services. She says she fell into it after university after her ex-husband, a financial adviser, suggested she could be a sales rep and introduced her to contacts.

Sally started at Guardian Royal Exchange and moved to Albany Life, moving rapidly from working on local accounts to being a national accounts manager working with major international firms.

Career break

She then started her family, at one point having three children under the age of four. That led to a 15-year career break which only ended when she got divorced and needed to get back to work. “It was a bit of a shock,” she says. “My self-esteem was through the floor.”

Sally applied for several jobs and had some interviews, but she found it difficult getting people to overlook her career break and give her a chance. “I couldn’t get anyone to see past this label of stay-at-home mum,” says Sally. She worked as a self-employed cleaner for a year before being taken on by a local courier company as a sales coordinator, a job she was very much overqualified for. She asked to take on other responsibilities, but it was not until a salesman was sacked that she was able to go on the road selling courier services. The firm was dominated by men and there was not much empathy for a single parent of three. She recalls one occasion when her son was in hospital overnight with an asthma attack and she was told to report first thing in the morning to her desk.

Sally soon left for the energy sector, securing a job in sales at Measure My Energy, which sold energy monitoring devices.  She worked full time and her children attended after school clubs. “It was really tough,” she says.

Through Measure My Energy Sally got to know the energy firm SSE and eventually got a job there with a significant salary hike.

Two years ago, the opportunity to work for Schneider Electric came up. Most of the clients she now works with are in banking and finance, so it is a move back to the world she knows. Sally, whose children are now 21, 19 and 17, travels into London two or three times a week and otherwise works from home. “It’s perfect,” she says. “My job is sales-based, but a lot of what I am doing is problem-solving and communications, for instance, trying to connect customers to the right person.”

She says that, although her job title is field services development engineer, the role itself is more about owning problems, seeing things through and communications than anything highly technical. She would like to see more women consider similar roles. “A lot of people are put off by the word engineering,” she says, although she adds that she is optimistic that things are changing and more younger women feel they can do anything.

She is very proud of how Schneider Electric have sought to break down gender stereotypes. “Across Schneider there is a very strong focus on Diversity and Inclusion,” she says, “supported by a philosophy to attract diverse talents into Schneider Electric. They really welcome people from all walks of life, ages and cultures and are keen for everyone to feel valued.” She adds that many technology firms would not have taken on a woman with a career gap and no background in technology. “I would never have thought I would be capable of this role,” she says, adding that she would like to encourage other women returners to consider roles like hers. “Mums have loads of skills that are useful in the workplace.”

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