HOLDING down a full-time job while raising a family is always a balancing act for mums.
Juggling staff meetings, deadlines and office politics with packed lunches, parents' evenings and PE kits can sometimes take its strain.
So spare a thought for Sarah Cooper, who understands the pressures on women to be successful at work as well as at home more than most.
Sarah, 37, has recently been promoted to the senior bank manager in the Preston area — meaning she is responsible for 60 staff members across Preston, Leyland, Bamber Bridge and Penwortham.
The high-flying mum-of-two, from Whittle-le-Woods, has not only climbed the greasy pole of success in her career, but also has two daughters — 11-year-old Rebecca and seven-year-old Eleanor — to keep her busy.
“It is hard work being a mum and a career woman, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” said Sarah.
“Some days I’ll sit down for tea at 9pm and I’ll think ‘Where has the day gone?’. And there’s definitely a bit of guilt on my part when I’m working late and thinking: ‘I really should be at home reading with Eleanor’.
“But thankfully the bank is flexible so if I need to leave at 3pm to get to watch a school play I can do it and make up the time later.
“I do put in a lot of hours per week but, when you get to a certain point, there is an expectation about the level of commitment to the role.”
Sarah began working for Natwest aged 16 and has worked her way up. In her 21 years of service she has undertaken roles including branch manager, PR manager, HR consultant and senior relationship manager for Natwest Private Banking.
“I’ve done pretty much every job at the bank,” she said.
“In 1999, aged 27, I became one of the youngest branch managers in the country and the first-ever female manager of the Darwen branch of Natwest.”
And during her time she has seen the role of women in business changing.
“When I first joined the bank in 1988 it was a case of ‘Well you won’t want to do your banking exams because you’re a woman’. There was a definite air of expectation that the lads were going on to the top jobs. But I managed to get on the management development programme and now when I look around many of our senior people are women. I think we’ve smashed through the glass ceiling and I certainly feel that the sky’s the limit.”
Sarah has vowed to take a new approach to her role as senior bank manager and is adamant that she makes the branches under her control more involved in their local communities. She has already broken with tradition by hosting a charity fashion show in the Preston branch of the bank at night to raise money for Derian House children’s hospice.
And back at home Sarah finds she has to be creative with her time to get everything done too.
“I’m very lucky that the girls go to a great after-school club, and my parents and partner Neil help me out an awful lot,” she said.
“If I didn’t have such a good family and a strong network I don’t think I’d be able to do the job I’m doing. I have to be organised, almost down to the minute, and it can be quite stressful to work out who’s picking who up and who’s dropping who off when the girls have different activities.”
Sarah believes by working she is giving her girls a positive role model.
“I’ve sat down and explained why mummy has chosen to work and what that means for them — it’s why they can have nice things at Christmas and go on holiday every year, and I think it’s really important to communicate that to them,” she said.
“When I began my latest role I took the girls into work and introduced them to everyone so they would know who I was talking about. I want them to feel included and understand what I do.”
Sarah will teach her girls that they can do anything they want in life.
“My own mother didn’t work when I was growing up, but I’ve always been ambitious,” she said.
“If my girls want to be career women I’ll help them as much as I can and I’ll tell them how you have to go that extra mile to get noticed. But if they want to be stay-at-home mums I’ll support them too.”
And Sarah encouraged other women to follow in her footsteps and reach for the stars.
“I think now is the time for women in business,” she said.
“There are so many opportunities and I want to tell women that they can set their own goals in life. If you want to be an achiever you can go ahead. If you’ve got the right attitude you can achieve anything you want.”