How job sharing is boosting careers for women in tech

The tech industry can only benefit from attracting and retaining more women, but some companies still miss the value of supporting job-sharing.

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When Sophie Smallwood returned from parental leave in 2018, she considered job sharing. She was keen to make the most of family life without taking a backwards step in her tech career that featured work with enviable brands like Facebook, eBay and Trip Advisor.

But finding both necessary elements – the right job and with the right sharer – proved impossible. “It led to me launching Roleshare because I didn’t want to be a statistic and to help other women avoid becoming one too,” Sophie says.

And the statistics are stark. Research by the Association of British Insurers shows having children means long-term, women earn 20 percent less than men. World Economic Forum (WEF) global shaper Nikita Khandwala says the financial and career impact of having children is one of the biggest reasons behind lack women in senior positions.

The part-time penalty

The earnings and seniority gap between men and women seems driven by women with children being more likely to work part-time. Khandwala thinks companies like Roleshare, advertising positions supportive of job sharing and helping people find good job-share partners, can help bridge these gaps.

WEF in a recent paper even suggested job sharing would help address urgent post-pandemic economic and social challenges like deepening inequalities. Kaspersky’s 2021 Women in Technology survey of 13,000 female tech and IT workers in 19 countries found 40 percent feel family pressures have held them back from pursuing career changes since the pandemic. Even more – 44 percent – said men progress faster than women in their organization.

Beyond part-time challenges and limits

Ellen Wilson and Helena Zaum shared an executive role at Microsoft for four years. They found job sharing a more appealing and effective way to maintain seniority and career momentum after having children.

Keen to balance work and family but told her role couldn’t be part-time, Wilson, her manager and director wrote a business case for a job share involving each partner working three days a week.

When the business advertised the position, Zaum was the successful candidate, bringing new and useful experience to the role. The director who approved their job share has since set up a new unit and advertises all roles as possible job shares.

Job sharing made me appreciate the seniority the team saw in me. You work hard to get to where you are. I have friends who found working and raising a family too much and took longer career breaks, but I didn’t want that.

Ellen Wilson, former executive job sharer at Microsoft

Zaum shared similar motivations. She’d gone part-time after parental leave and reported challenges like a stop-start career, working on non-work days and a feeling of treading water. “Job sharing has been invaluable. It’s let me keep my hand in. I think it’s a good way of keeping women in the workplace.

“We have been a good example of how job sharing can work. People sidle up to me in the corridor wanting to know more about how we set it up. My initial experience of going part-time wasn’t easy as there wasn’t so much precedent in the business then, but Microsoft has since proven itself a flexible employer and I feel great loyalty.”

How to run a successful job share

Wilson and Zaum agree their job share “worked brilliantly” as they brought different skills and experience, complementary personalities and eagerness to communicate.

Zaum points to the “peer mentorship” she and Wilson established in their partnership, which was so successful they both eventually went four days a week. It let them develop their own scopes so their positions became standalone, showing how job sharing can improve both career progression for women and how much the company gets out of a role.

Not just helping working mothers

Job sharing isn’t just for women with children but anyone wanting a different work-life balance. Nicola Johnson-Marshall is in a job share leading communications for banking software standards leaders Open Banking Implementation Entity. She works three days a week and runs a coaching consultancy the rest of the time.

And more men are taking up flexible working. Parenting website DaddiLife’s 2020 survey found 32 percent wanted more quality time with family. Flexible jobs website Find Your Flex says half its users are men.

Roleshare highlights how Brendan Clark previously shared his iSupply CEO position because he wanted more quality downtime. Sam White shared group sustainability and policy director role at Aviva and cites as advantages, prioritizing family and having a more equal marriage. Zaum’s husband shares his Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation role at Reading University.

Why companies should support job-shares

While 50 percent of Fortune 100’s Best Companies to Work For offer job sharing, up 15 percent on the previous year, reported numbers of people job-sharing are low. Statista figures show 123,000 UK employees on job-share contracts in 2020 down from 185,000 in 2013.

Smallwood points out many job share contracts are written as part-time so they may not show up in data. But she and Wilson’s experiences show job shares tend to be candidate-driven rather than company-initiated.

Zaum thinks managers must be better equipped to enable job sharing in their teams. Roleshare provides a job-share support toolkit for companies, including guides and plans. Smallwood says managers should ask for a joint vision and plan from a job share partnership to ensure they’re on the same page practically and values-wise.

Smallwood also advises companies to see beyond headcount and budget. A job share may be 1.2 headcount but gives twice the value in experience.

The pair will want to make it work even more than their managers. With a job share, you get employees with focused energy and greater wellbeing.

Sophie Smallwood, founder, Roleshare

Smallwood reports many more job-share advantages for companies. “You get more diversity of thought in a role. You have business continuity. Even if one person leaves the company, you still have the skills from the other. You can bet they’ll want the best possible talent to join the team.”

Zaum and Wilson hope job sharing gets more widely adopted to show how it can be a gender equalizer. “The tech sector is still struggling to have more women in senior positions and companies realize they must be more flexible,” says Wilson.

What if your tech firm could retain more of its best people? What if it had more diverse perspectives in senior management and increased productivity at every level? Supporting job sharing arrangements can boost the pillars of success by giving you more employee energy in each role. It makes sense for leaders to fly the flag for job sharing in their business.

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About authors

MaryLou Costa writes on business topics like work culture, sustainability and innovation. She has written for The Guardian and has appeared on BBC and Sky News.