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Nurturing a career, growing a family

Salli Shapcott is Contract Director for Serco’s Provision of Maritime Services in the UK, responsible for ensuring that our highly specialised teams deliver safe, secure and mission critical maritime services to the Royal Navy. Since Salli joined Serco in 2005 her career has flourished through a series of roles, moving into operational leadership in 2019. 

Salli’s family has also grown in that time, and Salli attributes achieving her ambitions in and outside of work to flexible support from Serco and her own passionate commitment to making it happen. 

How has your progress been supported, both in and outside of Serco? 

I was able to change role and location after maternity leave, and with a phased return – gradually working back up to full time. That flexibility comes from recognition that outcomes are more important than traditional management approaches. Serco has also invested in me with significant leadership training. All of this has further strengthened my commitment to Serco, helping me to progress and, I hope, become a role model for other women.

How did you approach maternity leave? 

I made sure I was seen to be a valuable, professional employee – before and after. I’d worked hard to get the Head of Finance role at the Serco-operated National Physical Laboratory and continued giving it total commitment until my maternity leave began. I’d also built a strong network of colleagues across Serco, and those links proved invaluable on my return – opening the door to new opportunities. 

When I returned, I was three months pregnant with my second child. Again, I worked extremely hard – balancing my new role with being a new and pregnant mother. I never felt left behind in terms of career progression. The key was being open-minded, up for a new challenge and striving always to earn the support on offer. 

What does it take to achieve the right work-life balance? 

I don’t believe in work-life balance. It’s all part of life and you make your choices. Everyone’s ‘balance’ is different. I want to be the best mother I can be, but also the strongest performer at work. Having children doesn’t preclude fierce ambition. So, where Serco gives me flexibility, I give them commitment and hard work.

It’s not easy. I’m constantly assessing my priorities and making tough decisions. Leaving work early for school commitments is hard – I respect that decision in anyone. But for me, it means working late nights and early mornings in return. I might be at my desk from 7am–3pm, not from 3pm–6pm and again from 7pm–11pm. Not a hardship when you love what you do. 

What recommendations would you make to colleagues and employers?  

Everyone is different and we all make different choices. Supporting all of that can get the best out of people. Companies who offer work-life flexibility to men and women are supporting gender diversity, because for every father at the school gates, there might be a mother who can make that important call or meet that critical deadline. 

Keeping the conversation going is important. Future generations are developing different expectations and aspirations; we should ensure that gender diversity remains part of that debate. 

And don’t think about roles in gender terms – everything is up for grabs. Women should be confident in what they bring to the table. Being genuine and authentic are two of the most important leadership traits. Trust that you can add value – it will keep you heading in the right direction.