I've been 'job sharing' for 15 years, and it was key to making partner at a major law firm. Here's how it's advanced my career.

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I've been 'job sharing' for 15 years, and it was key to making partner at a major law firm. Here's how it's advanced my career.
Kathryn Jump.Shoosmiths
  • Kathryn Jump and Lisa Tye job share as partners at Shoosmiths, a major UK law firm.
  • They jointly run its 23-person planning department and have been job sharing for 15 years.
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There's no way I'd still be a lawyer if it wasn't for job sharing, nor would I have made partner or risen to co-lead a national practice at a major firm.

The model, based on a full-time role being carried out by two (or more) people in a part-time pattern, has provided the flexibility and support system I need to succeed at work.

It hasn't always been smooth sailing, though.

The journey leading up to job sharing was tough

After giving birth, I thought I was experiencing baby blues, but I now realize that I was managing deeper mental-health problems, exacerbated by pressures at work and balancing those with my home life.

Lisa Tye, my job-share partner, was aware of these struggles. It was the mid-2000s and we were both working as associate planning lawyers at a global law firm in Manchester, England.

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Lisa was also dealing with the challenge of juggling work and a new baby. We both realized early on that something had to change, and we happened to read about married partners in a law firm who shared one role, which planted the job-sharing idea in our minds.

It took us a little time to work out how the job-sharing arrangement would work, and there was a pause while we both had our second babies.

We moved to a new firm in 2008 and that was the start of our job sharing

We were employed there as job-sharing associates, working three days a week and crossing over on Wednesdays.

We've job shared for nearly 15 years. Lisa and I have moved firms together several times and became partners at our current firm, Shoosmiths, in 2013. We now also jointly lead one of the largest planning practices in England.

Moving firms while job sharing has become easier with experience. We've found that demonstrating our commercial success and client portfolio is critical, with employers questioning what we can bring to the business rather than our working model.

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Job sharing has allowed us to be brave and confident in a way we would never have been on our own. As women who were left bruised early in our careers, it's enabled us to succeed in a highly competitive industry.

Communication is the key to effective job sharing

There's no right way to do this, but Lisa and I find it beneficial to keep each other included in all correspondence.

In the early days, we would have a structured catch-up on Wednesday, our crossover day. Though this has changed over time and with trust, a watertight handover is still critical to enabling your partner to take ownership on days when you aren't working.

The main danger for job sharers is being unaligned. This has become increasingly apparent as Lisa and I have started managing a team.

Though we do not agree on every decision, we realize how important it is to come to a position that we both agree on. This avoids a client or team member getting different answers to the same question — destroying trust and potentially having serious commercial implications.

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The job-sharing relationship needs care and attention. It's an intimate partnership; you have to keep working at it. Lisa and I have often sought external and internal coaching to help strengthen our relationship and overcome any disagreements.

A host of businesses have emerged that are tailored to supporting job sharers and provide useful guidance and assets. Coaching doesn't have to be job-share specific, as long as it focuses on trust and communication.

There is also no room for ego. A great leveler for our partnership has been having appraisals together. It's very raw, but we take confidence from laying bare our different strengths and weaknesses.

Job sharing makes me feel superhuman, and it's not just employees that benefit

Our partnership, and those of other job sharers, is proof that the model does not come at the expense of commercial success and, in fact, can aid businesses in delivering on their objectives.

It's also a powerful tool for retaining and cultivating talent. The model provides a path to senior-leadership roles to men and women who otherwise might have considered stepping back from their careers because of difficulties occupying a full-time role.

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Job sharing isn't for everyone. It takes work and a commitment to building trust.

It's an option, though, and while initially driven by the practicalities of raising a family and wanting to remain at work, job sharing with Lisa has yielded much more — it's enriched my life and career.

This is a personal essay. The views expressed are those of the writer.

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