From veteran to civilian life as a woman: celebrating Armed Forces Day

| minute read

Armed Forces Day is celebrated annually in June to recognise the work that members of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force, as well as veterans, cadets and Armed Forces families, all play in keeping the UK safe, at home and abroad. As the day approaches it is important to commemorate the service of the men and women in the British Armed Forces, and the wider community.

Life after service as an ex-female veteran

While women have made significant progress in the military, they are still underrepresented in civilian careers after leaving the armed forces. This is an issue that not only affects the women who have served our country but also has implications for businesses and the broader community. A recent report by Forces in Mind Trust (FiMD) highlights that female Service Leavers (SLs) have a lower employment rate (69%) than male SLs (81%), and a higher economic inactivity rate (20% compared with 9% for males).

Sue-Ellen Wright, Managing Director of Aerospace, Defence and Security at Sopra Steria had a lengthy career in the Australia Air Force. After leaving she moved to the UK and transitioned into a civilian career. Since then, she has worked with clients internationally across several sectors, ranging from defence and public services, transport and retail, to consumer-related businesses and healthcare. Today, she is passionate about encouraging women to achieve their potential and excel in the tech industry to create a more dynamic and equitable workplace. 

Sue-Ellen shared her thoughts and experiences with us on being a woman and transitioning out of the military into a civilian career. 


How was the military to civilian transition for you, can you tell us a bit about your career and how you moved from Australia to the UK?

Really tough. I really missed the sense of belonging.  You transition from a lifestyle where pretty much everything you do centres around being part of the Military Family – to having a job.  Even though I had a fantastic female role model (and that probably was a big part of why I accepted the role and left) I still really missed that feeling of pride and purpose and belonging. So, I decided I would have a proper change and go travelling for three months and then stay and work in the UK. One of the things I was really hoping to do through the Royal Australian Air Force was see more of the world. I did see a little bit – trip to Hawaii for example, and a load of Australia which was wonderful.  But not much. I was never deployed overseas. 

So, after a chat with a friend over a bottle of wine – a plan was hatched and off we went. I was going to work in a bar and have a gap year type experience - but I quickly realised when I got here that approaching 30 and growing up in the wide vast expanse which is Australia meant I was not really going to be able to embrace sharing bathrooms etc. and bars didn’t pay enough to both live and travel - so I went back to the IT Industry. That was 23 years ago this summer.

What do you think makes the skills and experience of female veterans unique? Do you think there are any transferrable skills between a military and civilian tech career?

I think the skills and experience of everyone in the workforce is unique and what we are trying to do is achieve diversity. To help us question more, identify potential problems and solutions quickly and solve those complex problems which businesses face today in as innovative and agile way as possible. Female veterans are used to working with diversity and in minorities and know how to get their voices heard, making them great team players. Also, the military offers so much training - both leadership and vocational - and has a culture of personal growth and development which is a real asset to organisations.

There absolutely are a significant number of transferrable skills between a military and civilian tech career and I’m sure that’s even more relevant today than it was 20 years ago. Tech is everywhere now, and we all use it to a much greater extent. But I think it’s the combination of the soft skills and tech skills that make the biggest difference. The leadership, teamwork, and communication skills are the big ones for me, also problem solving, and these combined with the digital and/or cyber security competencies, for example, make veterans a great asset.

We all know the heart of an organisation is its people, and we certainly believe that here. I suspect that any veteran will have significantly more people management training and experience than most at the same level.

What would your advice be to a female veteran looking to re-skill?

Don’t undervalue the skills you already have and don’t obsess about the ones you don’t. Remember in almost every role you will be part of a team and you will work together and learn from each other and that’s something you are very used to doing. There are so many more roles in tech now that don’t conform to the old-fashioned stereotypes of guys in a dark room coding and gaming. There are also many roles which have a real purpose and make a difference to society. So, get curious and try to land in an organisation where you think you can thrive.

How has Sopra Steria supported you in your role/ how does Sopra Steria support Veterans/ Female Veterans?

I have found that Sopra Steria is a supportive company, I think the culture and the way we do things is tangible and I have seen it time and time again. I’m really pleased that we are signed up to the Armed Forces Covenant and have been awarded gold in the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS). I’m proud to say we have a Reservist Policy, enabling people to continue their critical work for the Reserves, and we support several Armed Forces charities, and not just with donations, but also with digital skills - hackathons and the like to address their business challenges and of course with volunteering. Whether it’s decorating the magnificent grounds of Blind Veterans in Wales or 76 people participating in the Walking with the Wounded Cumbrian challenge last month the people who participate love it and feel a huge sense of pride in the taking part.

Learn more about our Armed Forces Community here

View current opportunities at Sopra Steria here



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