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When Sharon Hague walked into what is now Pearson in 2000 she recalls passing a host of pictures of company directors on the wall. Every picture was of a man. “I was fairly ambitious at the time,” she says. “I wanted to have my picture on that wall.”
Fast forward 18 years and Pearson now has a significant number of women at Board of Director level, a new podcast series ‘Nevertheless’ showcasing women using technology to improve teaching and learning and a recently launched Diversity Pledge.
Moreover, Sharon is now Senior Vice-President of Pearson Qualification Services and very aware of the importance of positive role models like herself for other women coming up the ladder.
Sharon mentors other women and is an active member of Pearson’s Women in Learning & Leadership group which shares experiences and offers support and advice to women with potential.
“When I was coming up through the different levels of the organisation I looked for role models and women I could see in senior positions who I could learn from,” she says.
Sharon’s career path has not been linear, though. She went into teaching after leaving university and taught geography for eight years in Hertfordshire and Essex, rising to the position of head of department.
Because the school was setting up a sixth form and she was head of department Sharon got involved with the Edexcel exam board. She started marking A Level exam scripts so she could help her students prepare better.
It opened up a new world to her that she didn’t know existed. When she saw a one-year contract at Edexcel running some of the GCSEs and A Level papers and marking she went for it. “It meant I was still involved in education, working on a day to day basis with teachers and examiners and having an impact on students, but at a more national level, making sure the students got the recognition for their hard work,” she says. The job option also came up just after the sudden death of her brother in law. The experience of that loss meant Sharon was mentally prepared to take a risk and try something different.
That was in 2000 and Sharon has stayed in the qualifications business ever since, working her way up to her current position. Four years later Pearson bought Edexcel, which opened up more opportunities for her. Pearson is a FTSE 100 company.
Sharon says the biggest step change in her career came when she became a manager. She first applied after she had served just a couple of years in the company. There were other people with more experience who got the jobs, but her knockbacks only made her more determined.
“I felt I could do it and that I could do a good job,” says Sharon. “So I kept putting myself forward.” After her fourth attempt, her manager took a risk and gave her the step up she was wanting.
Sharon’s career went from strength to strength and during that time she had two children, now aged 10 and 13.
When her son was born 13 years ago she was worried about taking time out because she had always been very focused on work and thought a long maternity break might affect her career.
She regrets that now and counsels any woman on her team who is pregnant that, if they are good at their job taking time off will not make a difference and that they should only come back when they are ready.
With her first pregnancy she believes she came back too soon when she was not mentally ready and that that made it more difficult for her.
She returned when her son was five and a half months old. “I was not emotionally ready to leave him,” she says now. “I went from being up half the night to going straight back to a five-day week. It was a bit much.”
Since that time, Pearson has introduced a staggered return to work for women returning from maternity leave which Sharon says is very helpful.
Soon after she returned Sharon negotiated a flexible working week and her husband also dropped a day. That helped her a lot. “I felt like there was a bit of balance from an emotional point of view,” she says. She worked flexible hours for around six years. In that period her daughter was born and, given her previous experience, Sharon resolved to come back when she felt ready. That also made a big difference. “I just slotted back in,” she says.
Her manager was very outcome-focused which made it easier for Sharon to progress and take on more responsibility. As her children have got older she has been able to return to full-time hours. Now her role involves quite a bit of travel and she is based two days a week in Oxford.
She says she wouldn’t have been able to do the role when her children were younger as she didn’t like to spend a night away from home, given that her son did not sleep through the night until he was six. “Now I can be away from home one night a week and it is manageable,” she says.
In her current job Sharon is responsible for making sure students who take GCSEs, A Levels and BTEC qualifications get their results on time and for the scanning of about nine million exam scripts a year, the marking of the scripts and the 20,000 teachers who do marking and assessment.
She is also responsible for ensuring the schools who take qualifications with Pearson have the teaching and learning resources, such as textbooks, the training and the digital resources they need to succeed.
Over the years Sharon says her ambition has changed from being about her own personal sense of achievement to making sure she is doing the best job she can in providing support to her team and to schools. “It has evolved into a different kind of ambition,” she says