Portsmouth High asks: What motivates women to choose particular careers?

‘We only make two key choices in our lives and certainly in our careers – what values we choose to live our lives by and how hard we are going to work…’

What motivates women to choose particular careers? That was the question posed to alumnae of Portsmouth High School by Headmistress, Mrs Jane Prescott. The school has had an overwhelming response from its alumnae network; below we share some of the replies they have receieved and will share more over the coming weeks.


“I would suggest women should consider careers which offer the greatest potential to adapt to changing family circumstances over the course of their working lives – careers which are flexible enabling women to retain control over their working hours…

This was never something I thought about as a school girl, but which has become increasingly important to me as my family situation has changed.”

Ali (48)


“I believe that motivation changes depending on your age.

“When I was at the High School and making decisions I wanted to do something that was going to make me successful and travel the world.

“Now I am turning 40 next week with a 7 nearly 8 year old my career has taken on a very different turn and my choices are dependent on how it would fit in with her and my family life. I now run my own business from home which means I can spend time with her and be around for her.” 

Amanda (39)


“I think serendipity plays a part.

“My initial career choice was influenced by what the rest of my family did – teaching – as I knew very little about the wide variety of work out there. In the end, having realised that teaching was not right for me, I stumbled upon (with encouragement from my husband and the motivation of a pressing need to earn money) the world of third sector organisations where work is actually very exciting and interesting because of the context and the people that you come into contact with.

“For the record, I worked for the British Computer Society and now for the Academy of Social Sciences. It was not a deliberate choice as I (a) had no idea this whole wonderful world of work existed and (b) would not have thought myself qualified as my degrees are in Theology and Religious Studies – but it’s transferable skills that we all need.”

Madeleine (53)


“I think we should stop generalising by gender. Everyone is an individual and should choose a career that matches their strengths and gives enjoyment.  I was always great at summarising but had no idea what to “be”.

“In fact, to young children, the better question might be not “What do you want to be?” but “What problem would you like to solve when you grow up?”

“For me, this meant a job writing easy to understand, clear instructions for software. The job is called technical author, but I didn’t know there was such a thing until I was about 21!”

Elizabeth (46)


“For me, the key is that the role is worth doing. With all my current roles (which include Chair of an NHS FT, President of a £b co-operative, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire, Trustee of the Catholic Church) the common thread that for me makes them worth doing is fighting inequalities with a clear vision, emphasis on quality and good governance. In fact my current career roles are all meeting that same purpose but I deliver wearing different hats. Previous roles (for example I was M&S’s European IT Director) have been interesting, but I found myself eventually only partially committed to selling more knickers.

“I believe that underneath all the fluff we only make two key choices in our lives and certainly in our careers – what values we choose to live our lives by and how hard we are going to work. All other apparent choices are the result of luck, genetics and circumstances. My choices were Love Thy Neighbour and Really Give it Some Wellie.” 

Ruth (56)


“I am a Chartered Accountant and and FD having working in Industry for many years. I would say my motivation for becoming a Chartered Accountant was to understand the nuts and bolts of how a Company operates so that you can help a business flourish and grow. It also means any kind of Industry is open to you and you get involved in anything and everything from Finance to the Environment.” 

Anna (54) 


“Three P’s – parental and peer pressure…” 

Tracey (54)


“For me it was entirely vocational – I had never had any thought other than being a veterinary surgeon (I was brieflydiverted toward classics at O’ level but only because Mrs Washington was the most fantastic teacher EVER!).  I thinkthat this is a very common story in my profession even todaywhere the cost of the education has to be taken in to account because of the relatively poor earning potential of the job.”

Charlotte (50)