Inspirational Woman: Sarah-Jane Butler | Founder & CEO, Parental Choice


I am currently CEO and Founder of Parental Choice, which I created back in 2011 after the birth of my second daughter.

I trained as a lawyer and was enjoying a successful career in the City, working for international law firms.  I found it very confusing and at times lonely when I returned to work after my first period of maternity leave in 2010.  I was astounded by the lack of information and support available to parents who were trying to make a success of their careers.

I was also disappointed that the firm I worked for did nothing to support me as a parent.  I felt I was still a very valuable asset to them and had the intention to continue being committed to working hard, but there was no support from them in terms of what was a life-changing event. It dawned on me that for any employee facing life’s challenges outside of work, there was very little support emotionally and practically.

I had the spark of an idea that I could make a difference to other parents in my position which would show direct benefits to businesses.  By helping parents practically and emotionally as life issues arise businesses would see a more effective and productive workforce, higher staff retention and lower recruitment costs among many other things. More importantly there would be greater employee wellbeing.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Ha!  I was all for taking up my place at drama school, but my parents thought that university was a much better option.  So, I studied hard and before children had a successful international law career working in London, the US, France and Japan and was on the partner track.

Starting my own small business was never a plan, but once started, it has always felt like the ‘right’ thing to do. I love helping people and feel passionately about supporting parents achieving their home and work life goals, while being able to deliver tangible benefits to corporate clients.  It’s a win-win!

Now my plan is to just keep championing working parents and helping them!  I am committed to getting companies to see the benefits to their business of doing more for their employees who have child or elder care responsibilities.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Of course!  Parental Choice is a relatively small fish in a big pond.  While we are unique as a business, our service is comprehensive and provides support throughput an employee’s life journey, our main competitor in the market has international backing and a bank account to match it, so getting our voice heard can be challenging.

Getting businesses to grasp that helping those with a caring responsibility is truly beneficial to the ongoing success of their business is an on-going challenge, no matter what the sixe of the business. We are not just here for the big businesses but also for SMEs as well. My job is to illustrate how on-going assistance enables employees to leave their stresses at home and get on with their job.  What we do is great for staff loyalty, retaining female talent and overall employee mental wellbeing.

Our most successfully engaged clients are those who have the ‘lightbulb’ moment when we meet them and totally understand how our services benefit their business.  The challenge is getting to the light switch with prospective clients.

What we do is a need to have, not a nice to have.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Aside from being a WATC Champion?!

The business is now eight years old and I get great satisfaction looking across the office at the team.  We have grown to around 15 employees, all parents ourselves, all working flexibly, supporting private clients and corporate businesses with effective, long term working life solutions.

We have also expanded overseas. In October last year, Parental Choice Asia was launched.  We have a permanent office in Hong Kong which supports Global Mobility into and out of the APAC region and is regularly delivering wellbeing programmes to global businesses based in the region.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

My belief that what I am doing really is important and really does make a difference.  My tenacious nature means I don’t give up and work tirelessly opening doors to corporates.

Someone once said that I was one step ahead of everyone else. I responded that they were one step behind and needed to move forward!

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Whilst I was in a senior associate, I mentored several trainees. In my business now we operate an almost flat structure so each of us with different skills can mentor the others. I would be keen to help others.

In turn I could definitely do with a mentor. Any offers?

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

For employers to recognise female talent and communicate with them about what can be done to help them.  Whether this is better flexible working patterns for all, out of work assistance with their care arrangements or in-office support.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to take the decisions that need to be taken. Have greater faith in yourself to take the risks and perhaps, don’t fight the world quite do much! It can be there to help.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Keep growing Parental Choice and keep helping businesses retain and support their female talent.  I want Parental Choice to be the family rewards and benefits provider of choice to corporates.

How did you feel when it was announced that you’d won a Rising Star award?

Gobsmacked!  I had a real bout of imposter syndrome when I saw myself among such highly-regarded contemporaries.  Never did I think I was going to win, so to be recognised as a Rising Star Champion has been a huge honour.

Please tell us what has happened in your career since winning the Rising Star awards?

We’ve had a really busy summer and this autumn I am spending time studying.  I have been lucky enough to be accepted by Goldman Sachs onto their 10,000 small business programme. This has been so informational and educational and the people I have met on there have been so inspirational!

I am learning so much which will help grow Parental Choice, which in turn will be helping other women feel secure in their careers.

What advice would you give to someone else going through our award’s process?

Go for it!  It’s a real confidence boost to just complete the process.  Getting down on screen or paper your achievements and acknowledging how you are making a difference.

What tips would you give to our other members to enhance their careers?

Don’t be afraid to be a trailblazer, put your head above the parapet and follow your instincts if you have an idea.

Open conversations with your employer on issues which affect your ability to perform at your best.  You can and will make a change for the better, for you and as a legacy for women who follow you.

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