October 20, 2020

A career off the beaten track

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 It’s been a big and bittersweet week for Sue Essery. Her eldest daughter, Megan is just about to leave the family home to commence her first year studying medicine. “We come from a big family and do loads of things together. We’re quite the sporty family. We go away a lot and have done some amazing trips together”.

The lockdown was surely challenging as Sue is into outdoor boot camping and can be often seen lifting tires at the park or exploring the latest military obstacle course. It was a pleasure to hear that Megan helped Sue with setting up a virtual boot camp during the COVID lockdown to help lift community spirits and get those endorphins going.

“My daughter designed the logo for the group, and everyone loved it! We would use milk bottles filled with water or sand as weights. None of us had experience with personal training but we learnt as we went along. We put a roster together of instructors. Everyone was vulnerable in putting themselves out there with no fitness qualification. It didn’t matter if you got it wrong. You were only limited by your imagination.”

Sue is very big on giving back and had previously organized a huge charity event with her boot camp friends.

“I love the way people come together through adversity and all help each other.”

A railway family

Sue’s second family is Northern Trains Limited, where she has spent the last 27 years across a variety of roles.

“I love working in the public sector and making a difference to people. I’ve worked across many different functions, Customer Service, Operations, Quality Assurance, Auditing and Finance. I managed a Retail Accounts function for a number of years. That role was my first experience with people management which I really enjoyed.”

Her biggest project and achievement in her career to date would be the design and implementation of a successful program structure and office managing a multi-million-pound investment in infrastructure, stations, employee facilities and new trains.


“That’s the job I currently do, leading the transformation team. Over the last 20 or 30 years, there hadn’t been much investment in rail but now things are changing. There is now a lot of investment in people and initiatives to improve the overall customer experience.”

Sue works with internal and external stakeholders to ensure that investment and business change projects are delivered on time and in line with business requirements.

Helping people grow and succeed

What Sue loves most in her career is being in a people leader role. She says, “I like it when people grow and develop. It’s great when we see people progressing and reaching their full potential”.

The wellbeing of her people is important to Sue. She says, “you need to ensure you keep reaching out and checking on the wellbeing of each other. [When the pandemic first started], a lot of people were uncomfortable putting on their videos during meetings. Now, I think with people working on their own they like to see others and it’s just a normal thing to do. I love seeing my colleagues and team online”.


And as if she isn’t busy enough, Sue also volunteers as an Enterprise Advisor, helping prepare young people for the world of work. When she shared how she started in the rail industry during a visit out to a secondary school, she was met with a lot of puzzled faces.

“I told them I started out in train enquiries. Back in the days, people would actually call up the train station to enquire about the train timetable. Everything is all online now, and I can safely say this role doesn’t exist anymore!”

A big push for inclusion

As we chatted to Sue, Northern was celebrating National Inclusion Week. On the topic of gender equality, she says, “we don’t have the ratios as we want, but that has improved. You do have a level of confidence in the direction at Northern”.

Sue is actively involved in encouraging more women to join the rail industry.

“In the UK, we have an organization called Women in Rail which is an organization created to improve diversity in UK rail through providing networking opportunities and support for women within the sector.”

Sue believes educating people on diversity and inclusion is key to a broader understanding of people.

“There’s a real push for all inclusion within Northern. We serve a diverse community across the North and therefore our workforce should represent that. Northern covers large geographic regions and people from all different religions and ethnicities. Being more inclusive helps break down barriers. In addition, the rail industry hasn’t traditionally attracted a great deal of women but we are looking to change this.”


Having a work-life balance is key

Sue completed her psychology degree while working full-time and also heavily pregnant with Megan. She now has 3 children. The flexibility of the company allowed her to balance study, work and life.

Sue is really interested in and passionate about how the workplace can help support women with children and the benefits this can bring to the workplace and the employee.

“From my personal experience, my managers have always been flexible with me. When I had my children, I worked reduced hours. I went back three days a week. My manager at the time was very apprehensive at first. I convinced them it would work and it did.”

Sue is unapologetic about being a successful working parent. She says, “As a working mum everyone wants to take 100% from you. It was a conscious decision for me to be a working mother. I wanted to work and I enjoy my job”.

“One of the positive things to come out of COVID is that it’s forced people to work from home and proven that things can actually be done from home.”

This has got to be a positive for people being able to create a work life balance.


Sue reflects on her career and offers sage advice,

“I’ve had a fulfilling career and home life. The key thing I learnt over the years when reflecting on my work-life balance is stay positive. Think about what you have achieved in your day rather than looking at the long to-do list you may have. Prioritize and organize! It’s putting that perspective onto managing work and career that has helped me”.

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About the Author
WORK180 promotes organizational standards that raise the bar for women in the workplace. We only endorse employers that are committed to making real progress so that all women can expect better.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.