Breaking Barriers: The Rise of Job Sharing in Senior-Level Roles at BT

Breaking Barriers: The Rise of Job Sharing in Senior-Level Roles at BT

Keywords: part-time jobs, job share jobs, flexible working, diversity, retention, fractional executives, leadership, future of work, ESG, gender seniority gap.
Industry: telecommunications

Aurorah Cheney and Kate Jackson Wendelboe are the co-directors of strategy and growth at BT security, and they have one of the first director-level job shares at the company. Kate and Aurorah share with us their experience in job sharing, how they manage their team, and the benefits and challenges they have faced so far. If you are interested in learning more about job sharing and how it can work at the director level, you won't want to miss this episode. 

In this podcast episode of Talk Roleshare we cover the following:

+ Aurorah Cheney and Kate Jackson Wendelboe are currently Directors of Strategy and Growth for BT Security, managing customers in 180 countries. 

Kate pitched the idea of job sharing to their ExCo and Managing Director, who saw it as a value-add opportunity. 

Kate and Aurorah have 32 years of combined experience in Transformational Go-to-Market and Strategy & Positioning. 

Job sharing is a great opportunity due to the broad-reaching role, allowing for multiple ideas to be leveraged. It’s also a unique way to enhance and promote each other's strengths.

Through clear handovers, a shared notebook, team sites, shared team chats and WhatsApp’s they ensure full communication between the two to advance the role. 

Employers get increased productivity, increased accountability, complimentary skillsets, a sounding board, plus visibility of discussions and decisions made through shared technology tools used by Aurorah & Kate.

They meet regularly with their direct report team (one-to-ones every Wednesday collectively and fortnightly). 

Effective, empathetic, humble communication with each other, managers, stakeholders, and teams are key in order for them to be successful.

By working together, they are able to expand their individual networks which helps open doors or remove barriers.


Aurorah Cheney: We're currently director of strategy and growth with BT security. We cover strategy, transformation go to market and it's at the director level. This is one of the first director level job shares at BT. And it manages customers of all sizes across 180 countries.
 It's really quite a broad reaching role. So it's, it is perfect for job share. And the reason that is, is because we're holding a strategic and thinking role. We're able to bounce ideas off of each other and have discussions around market opportunities, how we're going to get more bang for our buck in terms of driving our business.

And that's always better when you've got multiple brains working on it. This is a major benefit. I know our ExCo that we report into really sees our co -directorship as a brilliant opportunity, as does our managing director. And we're starting to see the benefits of being able to balance ideas off each other, both strategically and from a transformational perspective.
Sophie Smallwood: Let's talk a little bit about your why? What was the motivation? 

Kate Jackson Wendelboe: I was doing the role already on an interim basis.
I was loving the opportunity. But I also knew that I wanted to go part-time for various reasons. My husband was going from part-time to full-time. My kids are five and eight, so just at the age where they still want me around. So it was the right time for me to go part-time.

But just because you have kids doesn't mean you lose your ambition. So a job share was a great opportunity to have the best of both worlds, as it were. And the business, when I pitched the idea in the first place, have just been hugely supportive throughout. And then I did my speed dating around, and Aurorah was actually suggested by our managing director, and we didn't work together in the past.

And so one thing led to another, and we did our interview process together. And here we are in the role. 

Aurorah Cheney: very similar in terms of a desire to go part-time. I've got a one-year-old at home and a three-year-old, and when I came back from maternity leave and having my daughter. I was faced with a situation where I was in a current director level role.
It started to require traveling to America and to the north of the UK and I couldn't sustain that, so I had to step away. When this job opportunity came up, we jokingly called it a unicorn because we just couldn't believe how wonderful it was to be able to pick up a director level role, really lean in on strategy and make some business change impact across the business while doing so at a part-time level.

And that was really compelling, right? Because it meant that I could still take my professional career seriously, but also be home to look after the little ones who need a lot of support in these few years. 

Sophie Smallwood: When people are recruiting, they're oftentimes looking for this unicorn that can solve everything they're looking for in the job description.
It's very hard to do with just one person. The two of you together actually can create this unicorn talent for the company.

Aurorah Cheney:
Really when you look at the skillset that Kate and I have combined, there would be no other candidate that could do this role. So I come from a transformational go-to-market rich experience, and Kate likewise comes from a strategy and position rich experience.
And together we've got 32 years of experience doing that which is phenomenal for the employer. 

Sophie Smallwood: What other value do you think your business is getting specifically because the two of you are sharing a role?

Aurorah Cheney: So you get increased productivity, increased accountability. We get those complimentary skillsets, which I just mentioned. And you get that built in sounding board and support. So there's so much more that Kate and I can do together collaboratively that we wouldn't be able to do if we were holding the role alone. 

Kate Jackson Wendelboe: I'll give you an example of when we started to prepare our priorities for the current quarter, we're in. And this is actually one that, that really highlights the benefit of a truly flexible job share. So I flexed one of my working days so that we could have, more time together so that we could have a really rich few hours planning out what would be priorities for us, what would be priorities for the team and what we really needed to get done this quarter to set us up for next financial year as well.

Sophie Smallwood: People who are unfamiliar with job sharing sometimes think it might be complicated. They get confused around how the handover might happen. Maybe we can go into the nitty gritty of how to share your job. 

Kate Jackson Wendelboe:
Clear handovers have been absolutely pivotal for us.
So some of the tools that we use, we have this very increasingly detailed and rich shared notebook. So we use OneNote. And that's what we use for our ongoing priority list, but also notes from relevant meetings, particularly where it's been one or other of us in those meetings.

So we put a summary of the decisions made, any actions that came off the back of that bump into our shared to-do list. We've got a shared team site just between the two of us where we can share key documents that we're working on. One of the things that we recently introduced was some shared teams chats with our teams, so with our direct reports.

That's an opportunity for them to benefit from how organized we are having to be. And it just becomes that shared repository of discussions had, decisions made, actions, questions that we all three of us have visibility of. 

Aurorah Cheney: On top of that, communication is absolutely key, right?

We've got a shared WhatsApp, which allows us to reach out to each other on non-working days for things that are urgent. And it's almost a lifeline. So if something major comes up, Kate's away, Kate's able to be aware of it immediately, even if it's on my working day and vice versa.
So it's still really early for us in terms of our co directorship. But what we have since learned in, in the first few months of ramping up, is that those one-to-ones with our direct report are absolutely critical.

And we had at some point thought that we could divide the team have each person look after a subset of our team. That's fine from a line management perspective, but in terms the breadth of our role and being able to see the entire horizon of what's happening, and almost standing at the balcony and watching the plays, we actually need to be collectively in those one-to-ones.
So we've identified the absolutely critical one-to-ones that we need to be in together, and we join those collectively every Wednesday, no matter what. And then we aim to, or endeavour to meet with the rest on a Wednesday, but at least fortnightly.

So we're getting that connection with our direct senior management team. Empowering them to do their best work, making sure they're getting time with both of us, which is critical, and keeping that visibility. And the final thing is that we do speak regularly at the handovers. So on Wednesday, Kate is there for me to make sure that although we overlap at the end of the day, we cover anything that it might be crucial for me to know that I haven't already been briefed on. And likewise on Sunday, Kate and I have a good chat about what happened over the course of the week while she's been away. So Kate works Monday to Wednesday. I work Wednesday to Friday, and we've got that overlap day on a Wednesday.

I can't underestimate the importance of the admin and the diligence around communication especially at a director level role. And I think anybody could do a job share at a director level role provided that they are compatible and communicating and that they're making sure that they're very diligent around that piece to make sure the other person succeeds.

Kate Jackson Wendelboe: We're both in it to win it as it were. We both benefit from this working out, both from a career perspective, but also from a lifestyle perspective. And I know I speak for both of us when we say we're, we are more than happy to invest in those Sunday evening chats, for example, because it's furthering our shared role.

Sophie Smallwood:
Love to know the size of your team right now, and also, I know you're relatively new to the job share. How many months have you been job sharing?

Kate Jackson Wendelboe:
We've been job sharing for three months now, and we manage a team of about 35 to 40 people. So we have we have six direct reports. 

Sophie Smallwood: And do you both manage the direct reports, or do you split half and half with a dotted line? 

Aurorah Cheney: Yes. We divided the direct line reports from a line management perspective based on our own strength. With the view that we would line manage a subset of the team and the other person could mentor them. So they would get weekly one-to-ones with each of us or fortnightly, depending on how we can squeeze them in.
And then monthly they would get some mentorship with the other person. So they're seeing us both regularly, but for different things. 

We're setting that up now. I think that's at the end where we're going to go in terms of ambition.
That doesn't stop them from accessing us, at any level when they need to. So we have delineated between the line management responsibilities and the day-to-day running of our business unit. 
Sophie Smallwood: Why not just two part-time people split the job. Why job share? 

Aurorah Cheney: So I think in a remit like ours where we've got an overall role that's strategically important to the business. We need to continue to provide vision and direction to the team. This can't be done piecemeal. So although we might pick up particular pieces of work or action.
I think ultimately, we need to be looking at this holistically to be successful. So we've personally found that by allocating to just one person, you can get blinders which will hinder the strategic thinking and the transformational progress. So Kate and I have been working really diligently to make sure our handovers are utilized 110%, and that we can ensure we both see the overall landscape. Because Kate was already in role and I'm ramping up, I'm new to the business unit, I'm new to the director level role.

We've got to be extra diligent around this. Kate is supporting me, and she's got a bit more knowledge and expertise than I do. But there's a point where I think we'll both be, on par and we'll start to see the benefits of the way that we're operating. 

Sophie Smallwood: How did you talk about addressing conflict if it ever comes up. 

Kate Jackson Wendelboe:
We agreed on the principle that we need to provide a united front to our team, to our stakeholders. So that is in place, and we will take away areas for discussion and make sure that we have those very honest conversations when it's just the two of us.

As I said before, we are both committed to each other and this job share. We just want to make sure that we are working through any areas of disagreement or conflict, and I think it comes back to honesty. We have been from the very, very beginning of this process, even though the interview process and the negotiation process, we've been honest with each other about what is important to each of us, and we've worked through it.

Sophie Smallwood: People sometimes worry about the unknown. And one question they have in a job share is if one person under performs and then the other person has to pull the weight. How would you address that?

Aurorah Cheney: Yeah. This is probably one that I think a lot of people do worry about, and ultimately this comes back to having honest conversations. For example, with Kate and I at this stage in particular we're leveraging our strengths and leaning in where we can. I think it's more about supporting me in my learning and ramping up. Then Kate steps back a little bit. But ultimately, I think this comes down to you at the point where we're on par and I'm feeling completely wrapped up, which is pretty soon.

I'm starting to feel, quite confident in the role. We are working collectively to identify our weakness areas to upskill each other or to delegate to make sure we're successful. This comes from being both empathic and humble with each other because there will always be areas, particularly in a role of this size, where one of us outperforms the other due to experience or perspective or just the way that the working week operates.

So for example, in our team, Monday to Wednesday are really busy. And so Kate will always have an opportunity possibly to pick up on some areas that I may not have given the time of week we're in. There are so many variables around this that can be perceived as underperformance, but ultimately by checking in with each other remaining empathic remaining, true to the cause around what we're trying to do, we will be able to support each other.

And I will have strengths that Kate does it and vice versa. I think that it should never come to a point of underperformance unless you've promoted somebody who really wasn't ready for the role. And in that case, you need to mentor heavily. But it should be about covering each other's weakness areas and promoting each other's strengths.

Kate Jackson Wendelboe: And it also comes back to communication, not only with each other, but with our manager, with our stakeholders, with our teams. Are they all getting what they need to from us and is the job share the way of working, hampering anything at all? And if not, we work through it together. So it's just about overcommunication, if anything. 

Sophie Smallwood: What if people on your team favour one person over another for approvals and decisions? How do you manage that? 

Kate Jackson Wendelboe: It's risk of course, but it's not something we've seen so far. I think because of the pace of the business and the pace that moves, people can't afford to wait. And we have been able to handover the main things to each other so seamlessly that actually it, it just gets passed onto whoever's in the hot desk, whoever's in the chair. I think it comes down to the fact that we're both very people focused. We've got a very similar approach of empowering our team and just being there to coach and support them.

So I think even if there was a preference, they would likely get a very similar response from one or other of us. 

Aurorah Cheney: Also I think from the stakeholders upwards, right? I think this is only a strength. If you're managing stakeholders upwards or even, across the collegiate area, if one of those stakeholders has a preference for the other, then this can be beneficial, right? Because that person can help you open doors. Or if you're seeing blockers in terms of getting something done, but they've got a strong relationship with the other counterpart, then you can possibly move things along quicker.

Kate and I have very similar approach to the way that we relate to people. I think that actually, even if you have a very different skillset and approach to things that could only work in your favour when you're managing upwards or outwards in terms of getting things done or removing barriers.

Sophie Smallwood: Yeah. It's about expanding your networks through each of you individually. 

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