Personal Stories of America at Work

How Two Ambitious Women Make Job Sharing—and Life—Work

Alix Apfelberg and Sharon Blender share talent and technology to succeed in fast-paced Silicon Valley

“The nature of the jobs we take and design result in really complex roles. And what we bring to those jobs is more than what one person alone could bring.”

I was working like crazy. I had no time.

Before we decided to job share at a Fortune 100 technology company, Sharon and I worked together almost every day for two-and-a-half years. Sharon had come from a computer hardware company, where she had job shared for four years. I was feeling very burned out in my finance position and ready to work on something new. We happened to be carpooling to a women’s leadership conference, and Sharon was talking to another person in the car about her old job share partner. I was all ears! “What’s a job share? I’ve never heard of that before.”

We “courted” each other for a year, kind of joking about it all. As we got to know each other better, we realized how compatible we were. Our personalities are night and day in many ways. For example, I am an introvert and need time to process, while Sharon is outgoing and assertive and her mind processes ideas a mile a minute. But our core beliefs, leadership style, and values around running the business are totally aligned.

My twins were two and a half, and I was working like crazy. I had no time. I interviewed for a number of other roles that I had hoped would be more manageable, but I knew it was unlikely that any of them would resolve my work/life integration dilemma. I told Sharon I was about to make a move. We realized we either jump in together now or our window would close.

We look for roles that are new or broken

In our previous full-time positions, we were in roles in which there was significant overlap and integration. We worked in a sales organization where most aspects of the business had a technical, finance, and operations element to it. Sharon and I were the operations and finance leads for that team. We proposed to share Sharon’s job, which would also lead to a promotion for me. This would be the first job share in the organization and the only director level job share arrangement across the company, so we needed to have a well-thought-out plan and to gain full support from executive management. For both of us, the ideal was to work fewer hours but still be in a really interesting, important role at the company.

We are pretty clear with people that our objective is to find opportunities where there’s a significant gap and we can make an impact. In particular, we look for roles that are new or broken. It’s not about titles or moving up.

Over the last four years of doing a job share together, we have changed jobs several times; sometimes they were promotions and sometimes lateral moves. We interview as a team, with a joint resumé highlighting what we have accomplished as a team, as well as our individual backgrounds.

In a job share, you’re covered

Job sharing and part-time work are really different. In a job share, you’re still doing a full-time job, which is often a really big job. If you’re working part-time, no one is there doing the job when you’re gone. We are each three-quarters time, and each work forty hours plus a week. But in a full-time role, people are working sixty hours a week plus. It’s all a matter of scale.

Recently, I called someone at another large Fortune 50 corporation. The person who heads up their talent retention team, which is a big job, works part-time. Her voice mail said, “Hi, this is Susan. I’m here Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.” I thought, “Ack! What you’re telling someone is that if it’s Thursday or Friday, I’ll talk to you in four days!” But in a job share, you’re covered.

We’re on, even when we’re off

In our opinion, you can job share any role if the partnership is right and you’re willing to do whatever it takes behind the scenes to make it work. You also need to have a hiring manager and an organization willing to embrace it. It’s a little scary for some people in the beginning because they don’t get it. They have questions like, “It’s Tuesday, who do I call?” We tell them, “You don’t have to worry about that.” We have a joint mailer—we have created one called Shalix (Sharon plus Alix) for the two of us. We had fun playing around with names for that. Sometimes when there’s a new project, people are confused and think Shalix is a person—we don’t care, we’ll answer to anything!

We work in a very technologically equipped organization. Years ago, when you didn’t have Blackberries or laptops or Instant Messaging, it would have been a lot harder. We check our messages throughout the day. So if something comes to me and I’m not available, I just send it to Alix. We’re on, even when we’re off. We tell people that they don’t have to worry about catching up the other person; we’ll catch the other person up.

The nature of the jobs we take and design result in really complex roles. And what we bring to those jobs is more than what one person alone could bring. We have found that one person cannot come in and take over a role we have done. The person who took over our last role was drowning, and pretty quickly advocated for bringing in additional headcount in order to continue and expand the role.

Now we have our weekends back

We work three-quarters time, get three-quarters compensation, and full benefits. Three-quarters time equates to one day off a week plus a few hours. We had originally proposed 60-60, so that we would have a day overlap. But HR actually encouraged us to do 75-75 because they knew the workload would expand. We officially overlap three mornings each week. It doesn’t always work that way if, for example, there’s a very important meeting we both need to attend.

There are weeks when Sharon actually gets her full Tuesday off or I get my full Friday off. But it’s our habit to always check in, and bounce ideas off each other. We could be hard-core in sticking with our hours, but we want impactful jobs with big challenges, so we’re fine with working more. That’s not a function of the job share, that’s a function of our personalities and how we choose to do the roles we go after.

I (Sharon) job share, so I can have a life outside of work. I love the hours with my son in the afternoon, as well as the work I do with a nonprofit. In the winter, I like to ski every week. I live in Colorado on purpose. When we started job sharing, my twins (Alix) were really young, and I wanted to get the weekends back with the family. I found that not only was I working on the weekends, but I was running all the errands because there was no time for any of that during the week. My husband and I were just splitting up the kids and splitting up the errands; he would go to the dry cleaner while I went to the grocery store. Now we have our weekends back.

Not an arranged marriage

You can’t job share with just anyone. This can’t be an arranged marriage. The fit is really important. Now that we have each other, we can’t imagine going back to full-time work. Job sharing allows each of us to have boundaries and have a life while doing really interesting work.

My previous manager understood why I wanted to try a job share to support my family life but thought that it would not be good for my career. In reality, I actually got a title promotion and increased pay, and I picked up more responsibility. There’s a perception out there that if you’re in a job share, you’re not as serious about your career. That’s the perception of people who haven’t worked closely with us, which is sometimes hard to take.

We jointly manage a number of people, and those who have worked closely with us see the advantages. Our reports say they like having two managers; they have more access and two different perspectives. Although we express ourselves differently, we are always aligned. And we don’t create extra work for people by one of us telling someone to do one thing and the other one saying something else.

It’s not for everyone

Job shares aren’t common at all at our company. We’ve only met three or four other teams, and we have over sixty thousand employees around the world. There’s no programmatic support for guiding job share partners on how to go about it, how to talk with your manager about it, and work out the compensation. Why isn’t it more common? It takes a lot of initiative and commitment. Employees have to do it on their own—find someone who is the right match, sell it to management, and then make it work. Having executive sponsorship, and a leader who can support it, is key too. And it’s a cut in pay—people forget that part.

Job share partners need to have full trust in each other and have to be able to let someone else take credit. I want people to want to work with Alix. Sure, I want people to like to work with me, but if they don’t want to work with Alix, I’ve just lost my flexibility. And Alix wants people to want to work with me. Job share partners need to have a joint ego.

The main issue I have seen that makes job shares fail is when one person emerges as the lead. It can’t be that way. We emerge as leads on different projects, but we do that purposefully based on our expertise.

It really comes down to figuring out if it’s right for you. We need to remind people it’s a cut in pay, joint credit, and joint responsibility if something were to go wrong. It’s really not for everyone, but it’s a great fit for us and (we think) a big win for the company.

Editor’s Postscript: Sharon and Alix’s position was recently eliminated when their employer downsized 9% of its workforce. Despite years of success in their various roles, they suspect that their job sharing arrangement made them a more likely target. They were invited to pursue individual full-time roles at the company but have decided instead to conduct a joint job search outside the organization.

Molly Rosen | August 16, 2011 | Automation, Finance, Women, Working Mother | 1

One Response to How Two Ambitious Women Make Job Sharing—and Life—Work

  1. joanne says:

    sad to read that the job share might have made them vulnerable in the downsizing. wishing sharon and alix luck in their job search.

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