Choose not to choose

It’s not always easy and you have to work hard at both home and work to be successful, but it’s well worth it

I returned to work (at Zurich) six months after having my daughter. Going back to work was tough – managing any role with a young child is hard but it is really difficult when you don’t have a regular working pattern. My area at that point was the Midlands – Zurich had a policy that partners couldn’t work in the same region so as hubby was in the North, I had to move to the Midlands, so working there and living in Leeds had its challenges.

I really wanted to go back four days a week but this wasn’t possible in my role so I took eight days’ holiday (one a week) to break me back in and was then full time.

The opportunity for promotion I had been hoping for a year or so earlier came up almost straight after I came back and I had a very tough decision to make – could I go for this bigger role and be a good mum? I decided I could and pushed for it; I was successful and for the next three years was an area sales manager looking after a team of BDEs in the Midlands (still living in Leeds).

As well as living out of my area, all of the regular monthly meetings were in the South, so I had to be away from home at least a few nights a month.

I loved the role and was successful but still struggled with the balancing act, especially as my husband also had a demanding job.

I have lots of funny stories through this period such as standing up to present to large groups only to discover the sick patch on my shoulder or just when I was about to walk into meetings to tender for large pieces of business getting calls to say my daughter had forgotten her kit or the like. It’s amazing how you improve your organisational skills!

When my daughter was nearly four I decided that a change in job was needed. I was still career focused but wanted something that brought me closer to home more of the time. I was – and am – well aware that a sales and development role isn’t nine to five and at the time I was more than comfortable with that.

I joined Provident Insurance in 2007 as a senior development manager for the North. I quickly got stuck into the new role and routine. I finally found a much better balance between work and home and realised that in the right role you can be successful at work and as a mum/stepmum.

I progressed well and became head of distribution.

At this point, my daughter was struggling a little with anxiety and sleep issues (in fact she didn’t sleep through a single night until she was seven, and even then sporadically).

I also found that since she started school, I was distant from her education and school friends and their mums. I was looking again for a shift in balance and spoke to my manager about flexibility. I thought that working four days a week was the answer but when we chatted this through, we came up with a better solution for me and the business.

I stayed full time but worked from home one day a week. This gave me one morning a week where I could take her to school, and provided the opportunity to be around should the teacher ever need to speak to me and enabled me to engage with the other mums. I did this and was at my desk working by 9:15, so we were all happy.

I also took unpaid leave once a week in the school holidays. Again, this ticked my box in making sure my daughter didn’t spend every holiday at the childminders and yet I could still commit to full time outside of holidays.

I became a school governor and Covéa Insurance supported this under its voluntary work policy, whereby the business matched the hours I put in, up to five days a year. This enabled me to give something back to school and also create a new network outside work for myself.

My daughter is now 13, my step kids 22 and 24, and the flexibility during the latter years at Covéa Insurance has allowed me to support the family, keep a healthy home life and progress my career to director of intermediated distribution for personal lines. Without this flexibility I may have well felt that I had to choose between career and family. I am so grateful that I didn’t. It’s not always easy and you have to work hard at both home and work to be successful, but it’s well worth it.

Sue Coffey – director of intermediated distribution, personal lines

Career Highlights:

  • Started work at 18, temping for Zurich Insurance, role become permanent six months later
  • Completed Certificate of Proficiency and Certificate of Practice
  • Was promoted to business development executive at 24, one of the youngest and only females in the role
  • Married in 2001 and gained two young stepchildren, followed by a daughter in 2002