Taking the leap into a new sector

Caroline Oxtoby speaks to workingmums.co.uk about her decision to change sector and move to a term-time job at Pearson, from which she was promoted within less than six months.

Person working from home at their desk with computers


Caroline Oxtoby is proof that there are employers who can offer flexible working from day one and career progression for those not working traditional full-time hours. She works term time at publishing and education company Pearson and was promoted within less than six months of starting work there.

Caroline had had a senior position in corporate travel, where she had worked for 24 years, before she started at Pearson. She had been with her previous employer for 15 years, through the birth of her two children [aged six and eight], working on both account management and business development.

Earlier this year, however, she decided to make a career change, moving from travel to education, for several reasons. The travel industry was particularly badly affected by the pandemic. Caroline has been on furlough for 14 months and had to go through a stressful consultation exercise as a result. She retained her role, but it had changed on her return due to the impact of Covid on the industry and she was worried she might stagnate professionally as a result.

She was also at a point where her children were more settled at school and she felt she could be more flexible, having worked three days a week before. Caroline had also just turned 40 – she felt it was time to focus more on her career. She felt she had put that slightly on the back burner since her children were born and she was ready to progress again. Because of the Covid impact on her company she couldn’t see how this might happen imminently.

She also says that, having her children at the company, she had felt the need to prove herself on her return from maternity leave and was perceived or perceived herself to be a little on the backfoot as a result of being part time. She thought a change of employer would re-energise her career.

Yet she also felt trapped through being part time – she wanted to move forwards, but didn’t know how easy it would be to find a new employer who would allow her to progress while still enabling her to have a good work life balance, one which would not see flexible working as being a negative.

Making a change

Caroline started following workingmums.co.uk and other organisations that support working mothers and understand that they can still be successful and career driven while wanting to be a mum. She attended a Successful Mums webinar at which Kevin Lyons, senior HR manager at Pearson, spoke about the company’s flexible working culture. It was a lightbulb moment for her. “It was such a huge relief to find that there were organisations out there that understood and embraced the talent pool that wants to work flexibly,” she says.

Pearson has core working hours which enables people to flex their start and finish times and offers a wide range of flexible working. Lyons also spoke about the company’s apprenticeship programme which offers paid support for people to move into new areas and roles.  Caroline liked the attention Pearson pays to career development.

After the webinar, she started looking for jobs at Pearson. Because she was changing sector, she decided she needed to take a bit of a back step to get her foot in the door.

Nevertheless, taking the decision to leave her previous employer was huge and she says it felt like a bereavement.  Caroline started at Pearson on 1st April 2022 as a customer success consultant on a term-time contract.  Within just a few months she has been promoted to partnership manager.

Flexible working

She has now adjusted from part-time to term-time working, which means she doesn’t have to worry about childcare in the school holidays. “I’m off when they’re off,” she says, adding that she did work for one week in the summer holidays which she found beneficial to both her and her children. Another positive is that term-time working, which includes having half term off, means there are frequent breaks in the year which enable her to come back to work rested and refreshed.

Caroline worked from home from an office in her garden in her first role at Pearson – indeed she couldn’t have applied for the job if she could not have done it from home as the nearest Pearson office is quite a way from her home. She says working from home has opened up a much bigger talent pool for employers.  Her new role is a mix of working from home and field-based work which she relishes. “It plays to my strengths,” she says, adding that she is really excited to be going out to visit clients at schools.

Caroline is keen to encourage others in her position to take the leap. “It takes a lot of courage,” she says, “but there are options out there for working mums where they can progress and maintain a good work life balance.”

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