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A career beyond motherhood

Sunisha Tharappan

Sunisha joined us in 2018 as part of our Re:Connectors programme. With a master’s in mass communication and years of experience, read all about how she got on after her career break.

"Since my return, I have been working on some very interesting and significant projects. I work part-time with flexible options, this ensures I manage my workload and meet deadlines while being able to drop and pick up my little one from nursery."

I was almost three years into a career break and keen to find a route back into my specialisation, corporate communications and stakeholder engagement. Before the break, I had spent three years with Plan International as communications manager for global change programmes and prior to that, six years working for Shell International as a communications advisor in both upstream and downstream global functions.

When I returned to work post maternity leave I found myself struggling to cope with the demands of being a working mother to an ill 10 month old. My initiation into motherhood had not been easy, a high-risk pregnancy followed by the 24/7 demands of caring for a pre-term baby with multiple health issues had me running on empty, both physically and mentally. After struggling to balance work and home for six months, I resigned, and the following couple of years passed in a haze as I tried to ensure my little one transitioned securely past his health issues and ongoing family upheaval. As a newly single parent, returning to work became a priority but also a seemingly daunting task spiked by stories of parents struggling to juggle childcare and work commitments. While I was confident of my work ethic and experience, I was concerned that my request for part-time and flexible working would prove detrimental to my prospects.

My Re-Connectors experience

Having spotted the Mott MacDonald Re-Connectors Programme advertised on the Women Returners’ website, I applied and was delighted to be called in for an interview as I was aware of Mott MacDonald’s strong standing in the field and the potential for multisector growth and learning. Right from the interview stage, the support and consideration for Reconnector candidates was obvious and I remain grateful to HR, my division head and my line manager for setting the scene the way they did at the interviews. It facilitated transparency and the ability to be myself and in doing so, laid the first blocks in rebuilding my professional confidence.

In October 2018, I started as a Re-Connector in the stakeholder and public liaison team as part of a team of five returners placed within different functions in transportation. The six-month programme proved to be a valuable mix of on the job learning and gaining sector knowledge, aided by excellent coaching workshops from Women Returners and a supportive network. While stakeholder engagement was not new to me, the transportation sector with its specific regulations and processes was a new world. It was also my first experience of working remotely as my line manager and team were all based in Southampton and I was two hours away in central London. However, my initial misgivings were soon voided as my line manager was constantly supportive and considerate of my situational constraints. My teammates were also friendly and helpful, willingly sharing their projects and learnings. There has also been visible support for the programme from senior management, while HR and our programme sponsor followed up on our progress.

Moving forward

Since my return, I have been working on some very interesting and significant projects. I work part-time with flexible options, this ensures I manage my workload and meet deadlines while being able to drop and pick up my little one from nursery. There have been compromises and I had to manage my expectations, but what I have is a fantastic opportunity within a great company, with a highly supportive manager and team and I intend to make the most of it!

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