Subscribe to our fortnightly Women at Work newsletter to get inspiring stories, career building resources and exclusive network invites delivered to your inbox.
Joining the team as a Network Rail Scheme Project Manager when she was six months pregnant, Harriet Turner says she’s found a uniquely supportive employer and an incredible team who empowers her. Harriet has learned throughout her career that, above all, she can achieve anything with the right people around her.
Overcoming the odds
My legacy? I want to prove that you don’t need to follow the crowd.
As a student with dyslexia, cookie-cutter learning and examination methods at school meant the odds were stacked against Harriet when it came to grades.
“I’m a visual and kinesthetic learner; I learn by seeing and doing. I worked really hard at school, but my results didn’t reflect this.”
When Harriet left school after A levels, she found a role in administration for a construction company. Six months into her role, Harriet did something she thought she would never do; she enrolled into uni.
“My boss asked me why I decided not to study at university, and I told him about how I struggled in school with my grades. He said, ‘You have the practical side now, you can do this.’ The company covered my university fees and I graduated five years later with a degree in Construction Project Management with first class honours and my Chartership.”
Hurdles and Heights
Harriet went on to manage mammoth projects across commercial development, schools and the energy sector. However, when she returned from maternity leave, her team was being made redundant. Taking voluntary redundancy, Harriet decided to start her own child-minding business; a dream from her teenage years. After running a successful business for three years (so successful that children were on a waiting list!), Harriet felt it was time to step back into her career as a Project Manager.
“It was a natural break for me; my daughter starts school in September this year, along with many of her friends at the center. Although my business was incredibly successful, I began to yearn for the excitement of Project Management and working in a team again. I was looking for flexibility, a role where I could see projects from start to end and opportunities for career development. That’s when I saw the role come up at Network Rail which ticked every box.”
“I almost didn’t apply because I was worried about what an interviewer would think when they saw I was heavily pregnant. I assumed I would only be considered after returning from maternity leave. But then I thought, “Well, it’s my dream job. I’ll go for it anyway”. When I interviewed with Network Rail, they didn’t bat an eyelid. At the end, I said that I was obviously pregnant and they simply asked me when I was due. It wasn’t a problem at all. The next day, I received an email welcoming me to the team. I couldn’t believe it”
A unique place: support and opportunity
Being offered the role when I was six months pregnant, having never worked in the rail sector, is a macrocosm of Network Rail’s culture. Everyone is so welcoming. In my time with the company, I can see they truly put their people first and push us to be our best. It’s fantastic.
After two months of training, Harriet is about to step back for nine months to spend quality time with her second baby - due any day now! But she’s already looking forward to hitting the ground running upon her return.
“There’s a huge opportunity to diversify my skill set at Network Rail. There are so many opportunities for internal movement. For example, Network Rail offers employees the chance to trial a role over a six-month secondment. It’s a great way for both the employee and the company to test the waters and see if it’s a good fit. I haven’t heard of this type of professional development program in the construction industry.”
“Solutions, not excuses.”
Looking back on her career so far, Harriet emphasises the power of taking the road less travelled and bringing the right people with you along the way.
“All my friends went to university straight after school; but at first, that wasn’t for me. I took time to find the route that would complement me the most, and it’s paid off in a big way. Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses, it’s simply a case of finding where you excel and following the path that uses those strengths. There are always processes that can be put in place to support your weaker areas. For example, I ask someone to check my work before it’s sent, and I go on site to learn about a new project. I’m grateful that I’ve had people around me who believed in me throughout my career. I only met my new manager two weeks ago, and I can already see how incredibly supportive he is. With the right people around you, you can achieve anything.”
About the author
WORK180 is a jobs board with a difference! We pre-screen employers on paid-parent leave, pay equity, flexible working arrangements and more. Find your dream job here.