For career-minded mothers, returning to work following the birth of a child can be bittersweet. A return to full-time work often means cutting short quality parenting time and increased childcare costs. On the other hand, if they’re having to deny their professional aspirations and accept a part-time job beneath their expertise, the excitement and financial reward of ‘getting back in the game’ is greatly diminished.
Instead of compromising, Sydney’s Bree Godden and Emma Whale have found a way to job-share senior roles for three consecutive employers. Earlier this year, Bree and Emma, who have five children under the age of 13 between them, hit the ‘workplace flexibility jackpot’ when YMCA NSW, led by CEO Leisa Hart, NSW took them on as the joint communications manager.
Bree and Leisa spoke to Dynamic Business about the value of job sharing for individuals and their employers as well as how the arrangement works in practice.
Part one: Bree Godden, Communications Manager, YMCA NSW
How did you and Emma come to job-share?
“Emma and I met at a former workplace where she was my manager. She had already had her three children by then but had to resume full-time work, which she wasn’t enjoying. Meanwhile, I’d just returned to work full-time after having my first child, but wasn’t comfortable with leaving my ten-month-old in full-time care. We both desired a good work-life balance but neither of us wanted to miss out on opportunities for career progression. One day we got to talking about this, and our complementary working styles, and Emma said, ‘As long as you wouldn’t feel awkward about working at an equal level to your old boss, let’s give job sharing a go!’
“When we listed what we could offer as a package, we realised there was no way an employer could recruit someone with our combined experience and skill set. From there, we started pitching the job-share arrangement in interviews for management positions. This involved highlighting benefits in the way of work output, culture and general HR issues such as leave. We’ve really pushed the fact that two heads are better than one; that having two driven worker job-share in a comms/marketing role reduces consultant costs; and there is never a week where the job goes undone – we’re able to step into each other’s shoes if the other is unwell or on an annual leave.
“We first shared a role in Sydney Water, then in the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations – and now we’re continuing the arrangement at YMCA NSW. We’ve been job-sharing for three years and I’d go so far as to say it’s the perfect work arrangement. The main benefit for us, as working mothers, has been avoiding compromise – we don’t have to press pause on our careers, which is a key concern for a lot of women in the child rearing years. We can fulfil our professional ambitions and work in senior level roles, rather than having to step backwards and take on part-time clerical roles where our qualifications and experience aren’t appreciated. We have a better work-life balance and as a result we’re happier and rearing to go when it’s our work days.”
How has job sharing worked at YMCA NSW?
“I work three days (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) and Emma works two days (Thursday and Friday) but we’re constantly on the phone and in contact via email. In addition, we’re both in the office every second Monday to talk strategy and attend meetings. We make sure we’re both across what’s happening in our team and that we’re aligned in our approach. When either one of us is asked about a project or issue, it’s important we provide the same response. Emma and I are friends and very likeminded people but our personalities are different, which has benefitted our team. They can seek guidance from, and bounce ideas off, both of us.
“We have complementary strengths and we take advantage of this where possible by dividing up tasks accordingly. I’m more a strategy person whereas Emma is a fantastic writer and communicator. Sharing the role means we have more of an opportunity to do work we enjoy doing – if a single employee was in this role, they wouldn’t have this luxury.
“It’s been essential that everyone – your team, senior leadership and your key stakeholders across the organisation – knows how the job-share operates. Once people know your days and that they can email both of you and get a response, it just becomes normal. Keeping the lines of communication open is vital. I think the whole organisation gets a kick out of thinking up nick-names for our double act – at the moment it’s Bremma!”
How has YMCA NSW supported you and Emma to job-share?
“Previously, Emma and I had to work at convincing prospective employers that job sharing works, but Leisa and the HR team at YMCA already understood the value of this arrangement. It was the first workplace where we didn’t have to explain what a job-share is! I remember for our initial interview we went in all geared up to sell the job-share, but were quickly stopped by the YMCA simply saying ‘We don’t need you to justify job sharing, we are already aware of the benefits and think it’s great’. Since we joined the YMCA earlier this year we’ve been met with nothing but support and encouragement. We were recently asked to step into the role of Acting Marketing Manager. As a result of our expanding role, we’ve been able to employ a first-time mum returning to work, giving her the opportunity to continue building her career in very flexible, family-friendly and supportive workplace.”
Part two: Leisa Hart, CEO, YMCA NSW
Why don’t more businesses embrace flexible work arrangement?
“I think fear of the unknown is a big factor, unfortunately. It’s a cultural issue for organisations to address – the idea that it’s just ‘easier’ to take the more conventional option and just offer straight full-time positions. But all you’re effectively doing is limiting your options and limiting the potential for your organisation to benefit from a more flexible arrangement both in terms of efficiency and reputationally as an employer of choice. I also think it will take more entrepreneurial people like Bree and Emma to take the lead in pitching themselves to companies for roles to help change the status quo.”
How has Emma and Bree’s job sharing arrangement benefitted YMCA NSW?
“There are a number of clear benefits to having two people in the senior Communications role. Over and over I’m reminded how beneficial it is to have two heads to consult on a range of issues. If you want a second opinion in other workplaces you would need to call in external communications advice whereas with Bree and Emma we have two considered viewpoints just by virtue of having the job-share position.
“Another benefit of Bree and Emma’s job-share for the YMCA NSW is that it is aligned with our core values of supporting children and families and creating happier, healthier and more connected communities. With their arrangement, I see our values in practice. I am a big believer in encouraging parents to continue pushing their professional career goals, if that is what they desire. I’ve seen the positive impact that the job-share has had on the organisation and as a result of this I asked Bremma (as they are affectionately known) to step into the Acting Marketing Manager role too.”
What’s your advice for businesses that are reluctant to offer flexible arrangements?
“Don’t be afraid of doing something different. In our case, the flexible job-share arrangement works as well for us as it does for Bree and Emma. Often businesses focus on the potential negatives of a new arrangement, rather than why they should take a calculated risk on the many proven, as well as unexpected positive benefits they can bring. As with any role you’re filling, the key is to choose the right person/people for the job and make sure the arrangement aligns with your organisation’s objectives and values.”
“Absolutely, employers must be flexible to be competitive. It’s not only common sense, but it’s good commercial sense, too. In Bree and Emma, we have two incredibly committed and professional team members who are driven to contributing positively to our organisation. Since Bree and Emma joined us earlier this year, I know of at least one recent hire who applied for their position at YMCA NSW as a direct result of knowing about Bree and Emma’s job-share. We strive to be a family-friendly, forward-thinking organisation and that’s proof to me that we are on the right track.”