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How job shares could narrow the gender gap in top jobs

The young adult woman gestures as she details her experience during the interview with the unrecognizable businesswoman.
For women job sharing can offer both career progression and the chance to balance their work with other responsibilities like childcare. (SDI Productions via Getty Images)

When we think about flexible work, we tend to consider home-working or changing our hours from the traditional 9-5. But one of the lesser-known options for people seeking more flexibility is job sharing — which involves two people sharing one full-time role.

For women especially — who often require more flexibility — job sharing offers both career progression and the chance to balance their work with other responsibilities like childcare. Not only can job shares help to narrow the gender pay gap, they can also help keep mums in the workforce at a time when many are being forced to quit due to a lack of flexibility.

Annella Osborne and Sarah O’Connor both work as head of Virgin Media O2’s Go to Market department, which takes on new products and commercial initiatives. For three years, they’ve both worked three days a week — two different days, and together on Wednesdays. And without the job share arrangement, neither believe they would be working in the tech industry.


“Parenthood really made me reevaluate my work/life balance, and for me it just wasn’t feasible with children to be working full time or even four days a week,” says Sarah.

“Due to the nature of some roles, like ours, one person working three days a week just doesn’t give you enough time. I know this is a challenge that many women face, which leads them to take a step back, make a career change or accept a less senior role.”

Read more: Why the stigma around part-time work damages women's careers

Although part-time work is a good flexible working option, there’s a lack of higher paid part-time roles. Many employers still don’t see part-time work as a viable option for senior positions, so women in need of flexibility end up stuck downgrading and working below their capabilities.

Additionally, while job sharing may be appealing to many employees, it is currently far less appealing to employers. UK tax laws require companies who offer job shares to pay an average of 23% additional tax on the position.

Instead, working mums often end up taking lower paid part-time work or jobs with zero-hours or temporary contracts.

A recent report by Virgin Media O2 and the Fawcett Society found that a lack of flexibility, part-time work options and long hours was preventing women from entering the tech sector — and causing them to leave it in droves. Almost half (46%) of people with caring responsibilities consider leaving their tech role at least once a week.

“Limited flexible options creates a difficult choice for women,” says Annella. “It's why today you still see male dominated senior teams.

Read more: How to navigate career progression as a working parent

“And I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is to think that ‘flexibility’ is just about ‘time’ — but it’s not. It’s about creating an adaptable environment that means people can thrive amongst life’s competing pressures, like motherhood.”

This is why both Annella and Sarah have benefitted from their job share. It’s not just that they work part-time, but they’re able to share the pressure and bring together their extensive experience too.

“When I go home at the end of the week, the work’s not just sitting there festering whilst I’m giving my attention to my family. It’s being moved forward, progressed, solved — ready for my return.

“That’s the magic of the job share. That when you’re not at work you’re really not at work — it holds no secret space of your mind because it’s all in hand.”

This benefits the business, too. “By not only attracting more women but keeping them, businesses can address talent shortages, create more well-rounded products and better serve customers,” says Annella.

Young woman using a laptop at home
Working mums often end up taking lower paid part-time work or jobs with zero-hours or temporary contracts due to a lack of flexibility. (PIKSEL via Getty Images)

How to make a job share work

Organisation is key

It can take a little while to get into the swing of working closely with someone else, says Annella. But being organised and writing things down is key.

“When we first got started our handovers were quite lengthy and time intensive, but we know each other well enough now that we can quickly write a handover that sets out what the other person needs to know,” she explains.

“Even if you’re not in a job share, spending the time writing down the top priorities for the following week is really useful.”

Read more: How 'fake flexibility' is forcing working mums out of work

Sarah adds that communication is everything. “Whilst Annella is off, I’ll still be keeping her in mind when it comes to decision making but if you’re both clear on what you want to achieve it means you can also make those big decisions on your own,” she says.

Be clear about what works for both of you

It can also take trial and error to find out what works in a job share. Like any working relationship, you need time to work out how people work and communicate.

“As we both wanted to make this job share a success, we were quick to adapt,” says Sarah. “At first, we tried splitting jobs project wise, which may work for some roles but for us we found it slowed things down. We decided to be more agile and instead both work across all projects and hand everything over mid-week. There’s no set formula to how best to job share, it’s about finding what works for you both.”

Find a good fit

When looking for a job share partner, Annella recommends finding someone that complements you but offers a different perspective on things.

“The reason we think our job share works so well is because we come from distinct backgrounds and industries — essentially, two careers worth of expertise,” she says.

Read more: How to cope with 'mum guilt' as a working parent

“This has only come to benefit us and the business when it comes to problem solving, how we tackle projects and more.”

Try a crossover day

“People choose to job share in different ways but what we’ve found beneficial is having one day a week for a crossover day where we’re both working,” says Sarah.

“We use this to have the big strategic chats, catch ups and meetings with the team which means that when either of us is off the other is completely aligned.”

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