After the birth of my second child, I decided to take a career break, and ended up staying away for four years. On my return, I decided I wanted to move into the voluntary sector, and I also wanted to work part-time.
A job came up at the Prince’s Trust. It was, for me, a relatively junior role, and it paid less than I’d been used to. But I took it, as I realised it would give me a way in to the sector. It was hugely different to what I’d been used to, in terms of budgets, motivating employees, and so forth, but the decision paid off.
Over the next few years, several charities, each founded and led by the Prince of Wales, merged. I was appointed director of HR across them. I was later appointed executive director at the Prince’s Trust. I got heavily involved in the change process and gained a real sense of the strategic view, helping meld the separate organisations into a single charity.
I’m still working in the voluntary sector. Although I was terrified that I’d end up trapped in the sector, and worried about having given up a senior role in media, the initial move was challenging and fascinating. I have never regretted taking that gamble.
I joined United Biscuits as a graduate trainee in personnel. On my first day I went out onto their factory floor in Liverpool. I was walking around, introducing myself, when I came across a large group of men. Their first comment was: “What football team do you support?”
I was a southerner, with no interest whatsoever in football, but knew enough to recognise this was a hugely important question. So I decided, diplomatically, not to align myself with either Liverpool or Everton, the two local clubs. I desperately searched my mind for the name of another team, but all I could come up with was Aston Villa.
A look of amused contempt came across everybody’s faces, and I realised that far from achieving a clever, tactical neutrality, I had ended up written off as a woman of no value.
Shortly after that, the union asked for all graduate trainees to be removed from the factory floor. We were ‘blacked’, or banned, for six weeks – but I don’t think that was actually down to me. I think it was because the union was worried about graduates taking other workers’ jobs.