The Cabinet Office now has a Senior Civil Service (SCS) job share, Sophie Langdale and Frances Oram, who between them lead the Red Tape Challenge.
As Sophie and Fran’s manager, I wanted to share some reflections on how job sharing works, and in particular, make the case for why job sharing is a fantastic way of making part-time working compatible with challenging, traditionally full-time roles.
The Red Tape Challenge is a high profile programme that is cutting bureaucracy to stimulate economic growth. The team is split across 2 departments, Cabinet Office and BIS, reporting to both Oliver Letwin and Matt Hancock.
The team work in partnership with colleagues across government to deliver savings to businesses of over £850m per annum by scrapping and improving over 2,000 regulations and by taking the Deregulation Bill through Parliament. In short, the role is like many other interesting and difficult Deputy Director posts in Whitehall. What is different is the way in which it is being delivered.
Fran and Sophie have decided – as mothers of very young children – to pair up and act as 1 individual. As such, they share everything at work and are completely interchangeable. In practical terms, Fran works Monday to Wednesday, and Sophie works Monday, Thursday and Friday. They take responsibility for exchanging information to ensure a seamless service to all those they work with. They alternate all their 1-to-1 meetings with their team and stakeholders. They share a performance marking, IT account and landline. Their approach, constructed after speaking to other job shares and in consultation with their team, is set out in more detail here.
Like most managers, I have never managed a job share before. But, having seen very successful partnerships work elsewhere, I was confident this approach would work.
We had to be flexible creating the role as a job share can come with higher overheads. For example to help provide continuity of service Sophie and Fran both work on Mondays, which means we are employing 1.2FTE. This modest extra cost pays back many times over in terms of the quality of service Fran and Sophie provide.
An effective job share also needs work. The individuals need to click at a personal level and have similar core values as professionals. They also need to put a good deal of thought into how they will operate as a partnership. Above all, they must consistently prioritise honest and efficient communication between themselves and colleagues.
I will be honest, when I first thought about it I was very happy for Sophie and Fran to operate as a job share partnership because I thought it was the right thing to do. A great way to help 2 capable and ambitious women and mothers continue with their ascent up the cliff-face of a civil service career.
What I failed to understand was the benefits I would reap as a line manager and group leader. I have found having 2 heads instead of 1 has brought a greater breadth of skills, styles, ideas and solutions – both to the Red Tape Challenge team and the Implementation Group’s leadership team. Fran and Sophie also use each other as sounding boards, making them extremely self-reliant. This means while they cost more there is more than a corresponding increase in productivity.
As well as managing a heavily-loaded role, they are both highly active contributors to my senior team. So again I benefit from having a greater range of experience and ideas looking at the common leadership challenges we all face in the Cabinet Office.
I should admit that Sophie and Fran are only in their third month of job sharing so these are, of course, still early days for all of us. We're currently collecting feedback from everyone Fran and Sophie work with on how it is for them and there will no doubt be areas on which we need to improve. That said, we already have enough evidence to confidently declare the job share as a success.
I am proud to be managing the Cabinet Office’s only SCS job share partnership. I am delighted that Sophie and Fran are demonstrating so clearly this approach to senior roles can work so well. This evidence matters. I would encourage all managers to be open and supportive of flexible working arrangements like these. If we are closed-minded, we are failing to give women and men who want to adopt these arrangements the opportunities they deserve to be as successful as they can be.
As a manager, you decide whether the roles in your team can be done part-time or in a job share. Every time we decide a role is not suitable for a part-time or job share approach, we should be conscious we're restricting opportunity and limiting the calibre and diversity of talent.
As leaders, we all need constantly to challenge ourselves to be open to new and different ways of doing things. That is the only way we are going to succeed in building the capability of the Civil Service to meet the challenges of the modern world.