Rocket Woman – Isobel, Senior Civil Servant Job Sharer

1 September 2012 | 1 Comment

civil_service_woman_walking_past_whitehall_signStudies of how men and women behave in the workplace suggest men are more likely to ask for what they want than women. Our Rocket Women posts shine a light on women who have asked for something in their professional life that has had a significant impact on their career. We hope they fuel your resolve to ask for what you need to get on.

Once the preserve of women at the lower end of a company’s org’ chart, job-sharing is now happening in the upper echelons of management. At least it is if you know where to look or more importantly if you know how to ask. I wonder if that appeals to you or your colleagues? If it does, read on and please forward this month’s working motherhood musing to those bright minds.

Last month I heard from Isobel, a senior civil servant in her late thirties who’s most definitely making job-sharing work.  Isobel has six direct reports and ultimately 180 staff in her team. She works Monday – Wednesday and her job share partner Wednesday – Friday.

So therein lies my first question: how did you convince the recruiting line manager to add a 20% to their salary cost base (due to the overlapping Wednesday)? Isobel cites her ‘ballsy’ job share partner as someone the department didn’t want to lose:

“In the first instance it was about retention – our organisation didn’t want to lose my partner and it was a case of ‘either I work PT or I don’t.’ It’s much easier if you have the capital built up so my employer was prepared to take a risk on us working in a way that was unfamiliar.”

If you present the job-share option as Isobel and her partner did (‘here we are’) rather than offering yourself as one half and expecting your line manager to find the other, it’s easier for your employer to say yes. There’s still an interview process to be gone through as Isobel told me about from both the interviewee and interviewer point of view (she has also successfully recruited job-sharers to her team as well as enjoying the status herself) and she advises both candidates are interviewed separately and then brought together for a chat.

Isobel explained how her career would have plateaued if it hadn’t been for her friend encouraging  her to go for the promotion and reflects that although her husband didn’t want her to go back to work (‘he thought it would be better for the children if I was at home’) he sees it’s better for her that she did. As I often say to wobbly clients swimming in guilt Isobel says ‘Indirectly the children do better because I’m not with them all the time.’

So how does a job-share work in practice? And can someone like Isobel really only work her contracted hours? Isobel’s key reflections:

HOURS WORKED: “I don’t underestimate that I’m lucky the culture supports it. I’m supposed to work 25 hours a week – I’m generally in the office 9-5 and probably do an extra 5-6 hours”

SHARED VALUES: You can’t compete and you’ve got to have shared values and a shared approach: “It’s a similarity of value that makes the role work – what you think is important has to be the same. But how we approach things is different yet we often come up with the same answers.”

BENEFITS: Job sharing is often like having yourself to talk to. “It’s a smarter better version of yourself – you see what the other person is bringing to the table that you don’t see in yourself. It works seamlessly and another good thing is being able to rely on her to give me honest feedback because it’s in her interest too.”

HANDOVERS: “We have Wednesday breakfast together and I tell her about anything that’s worrying me or anything that’s important. The end of week handover is a bit more difficult because on a Friday I’m in charge of two small children but I don’t mind taking calls on a Thursday or a Saturday as it means it keeps everything ticking over.”

ACCOUNTABILITIES – TO SHARE OR NOT? “We’ve tended to split everything rather than have lead accountabilities because it would be quite awkward in terms of meetings etc. The point is someone is there the whole time and one of us is there all the time and we both know what’s going on – the pattern of activity can’t be shaped around the days of the week we work.”

DOES IT WORK FOR THE PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH? “We’re mindful of managing our credibility and exposure to senior people (Ministers) – you need to feel like you are exchangeable to make it work for people around us. Our aim is complete consistency and people often say they can’t remember which they’ve spoken to which is a good thing in my mind.”

One Response to Rocket Woman – Isobel, Senior Civil Servant Job Sharer

  1. Pingback: The Thinking Woman's Coach - Rocket Women/Talent Keepers | Jessica Chivers

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