Chief Human Resources Officer at the Boston Media Group unpacks the power of rolesharing

Chief Human Resources Officer at the Boston Media Group unpacks the power of rolesharing

Industry: Media
Interesting to: Employers

E3 S1 - Talk Roleshare Podcast

Claudia Henderson, Chief Human Resources Officer at the Boston Media Group, shares her view on what it takes to drive change inside organizations and how sharing roles could potentially challenge biases, drive more leaders to appreciate diversity, and upskill individuals with utility skills critical to an organization.

Episode Transcript

Sophie Smallwood: Hey, this is Talk with Roleshare, I'm Sophie Smallwood, co-founder of Today we talk with Claudia Henderson, Chief human resources officer at the Boston Media Group. She shares her view on what it takes to drive change inside organizations and how sharing roles could potentially challenge biases, drive more leaders to appreciate diversity and upscale individuals with utility skills critical to an organization. Here is Claudia as she explains the start to the journey that led her to where she is today.

Claudia Henderson: It's funny, I got into the field that I'm in today by accident. My master's degree is actually in public policy and management. And I was in grad school in New York City thinking that when I got out, I was going to put on my cape and go to a nonprofit and save the world and then realized that I also had to do things like pay rent in New York City, which made that particular dream be put on hold. I was working, doing quality improvement work in a city agency in New York City, and somebody that I worked with or went to grad school with, rather, said to me a lot of what you do in terms of coaching teams and helping get to the root cause of why certain business challenges exist sounds a little bit like what our human resources folks do at Johnson and Johnson. And I didn't even know what human resources was. This was back in two thousand. And he said, 'there's this rotational program and they're interviewing, so why don't they connect you with the leadership over there and see what you think?'. I went in for a set of interviews and the rest was history. I literally fell in by accident. I was at Johnson and Johnson for about five years, both in the pharma and supply chain space. I came to Boston and worked in financial services and worked in the tech world, both large and small companies, and it's been a fun ride. For me and my own career, I've never been focused on trajectory necessarily. For me, as I've considered opportunities, it's been about what's the challenge that that particular organization is trying to solve or set of challenges. How complex are they? Because the more complex in my mind, the better and more engaging. And what's the culture or the context that that work is going to take place in? And if there's sort of alignment on all of those things, then it's something I'm likely to say yes to.

Sophie Smallwood: And today, what is it about human resources that keeps you going in this industry? Clearly, you fell into it, but you seem to have flourished in it. So what is it specifically about what you do today that really keeps you there?

Claudia Henderson: Actually, tomorrow is my one year anniversary here at Boston Globe Media Partners and people know us for the Boston Globe. That's our premier product, which is a newspaper. And at least in the United States, local newspapers in particular are a bit of a dying breed, and so the idea of coming in the door was, help the executive team figure out what our transformation needs to look like so that we can make the journey from being local newspaper print product, to really transforming into a true digital media business. That complexity alone, trying to solve a problem that really hasn't been solved for any other, at least the US market, was an enticing challenge. So for me, that's part of what energizes me. Doing that in an organization that has a really well established brand was also part of what was attractive. It's almost like you're operating as a startup in many ways in terms of the pace, in terms of the kinds of everyday strategy development that we're doing, the visioning that we're doing. So you're engaged in work that feels like a startup, but in an established institution, which is a hard combination of factors to find in other opportunities.

Sophie Smallwood: You have an exciting career, you have the family life as well. What's your trick?

Claudia Henderson: I remember, going back to my J&J experience, the first interview I had with what I would now consider potentially my best boss ever, I remember her saying, and I didn't have children at the time, I said to her, 'so how do people manage work-life balance here?', and her response to me very quickly was 'work-life balance is a myth'. I just remember being so shocked. She said 'what I mean by that is not that we don't support people in their efforts to try and feel fulfilled, but on any given day you're going to expend energy in a bunch of different ways, and sometimes it's going to be more in one space than another'. That really resonated with me, and I feel like on a day to day basis, I have similar conversations with folks now and feel that way in my own life. I try to dispel the notion that balance as a concept exists on a day to day basis, in part because it feels so either-or and so binary. What I say to myself, and certainly to other folks, is life in general is sort of the big picture and there are going to be days where you extend yourself more in one area, days where you extend yourself more in other areas. You might achieve something that feels like balance, but I think it's important that we re-define that concept altogether, again, because it is so binary. I think of it as how can I try and live a life in a way that sort of brings me joy and contentment and makes me feel fulfilled. I try to impart that same thought process within my team, and I think for me in my own career, it's been a matter of me saying as an individual, here is what's important to me, here is what I need, be it from a flexibility standpoint or whatever else, to feel fulfilled. I have to make choices about how I spend my time. Having said that, I absolutely think that there are ways that organizations can create tools that help facilitate allowing people to feel fulfilled. I go back to my experience again at J&J. That was the first organization that I was in where I saw a job-sharing arrangement in place, and it worked really, really well. I hadn't even heard of it or thought of it before. So I do think that we can, as a matter of establishing infrastructure from an H.R. perspective, figure out ways to help facilitate people knowing and being able to exercise.

Sophie Smallwood: It's interesting you had this experience way-back-when at J&J, you still remember it. It's funny because I also remember the very first time I heard about a job.It seems to be one of those things that you just can recall.Can you tell me a little bit about that particular job? Do you remember the role and the level and what they did together?

Claudia Henderson: I do. Maybe six months into my experience at J&J, I started working with the supply chain arm of the organization, in a H.R. capacity. I had clients, who in this particular example were working to oversee the customer service area, within the distribution world. There were two folks at a management level, but at J&J, just for reference, the title of VP is reserved for the folks who were at the top of the company, so their head of human resources is a vice president. Director level is high, and that's the highest level of folks at an operating company level. Manager level was also relatively high. There were people managers, operational responsibility and oversight for large groups of people. These two women were high performing, high potential individuals who both had young children, were similar in terms of their core values that they emulated most and in some ways were similar in their skill set. They both asked in separate conversations with their management, if any sort of job share option would be available. And because that manager knew that both of them were looking for that opportunity, they talked in a really intentional way about how they could design a job to accommodate them both. I worked with them for a good year into that arrangement, and I was very impressed with the two of them and thought that they actually made it work nicely.

Sophie Smallwood: So you were, in essence, a business counterpart that had to work with them. How did you find that experience?

Claudia Henderson: I was working with these two individuals who were very high performing and by that I mean they were both incredibly tenacious. Everything they did was for the betterment of the organization and they would work until a job got done. They had a very similar work ethic and way of approaching their work. The two of them were very aligned in that sense and I think that was helpful and I think definitely contributed to how smooth of a dynamic existed there. I think a lot of the success of that particular arrangement had a lot to do with how they came at it. I'd have to believe that anyone who'd be looking to enter into a work relationship like this would probably have the same desire to be as tenacious and as dedicated. They were very clear with everything from their out-of-office notices on email and their telephones, around who is going to be in on which days. I never had a problem reaching one or the other person. They had ways of making sure that they stay connected. Both of them would be copied on any email communication. If I was going back and forth with them about a particular employee issue or something else, it was easy for me to just include both of them. They were very clear about how to make sure other people understood how to get in touch with one or the other on any given day, which I think is one of the challenges that organizations might naturally think of when they think of an arrangement like this, like, 'I don't know if we can make that work', 'how would you know that you could get the person?'. But they they made it work and I don't think that should be a limiting factor.

Sophie Smallwood: You've just shared some really interesting tips on how to actually go about finding a good match. If you're looking to do a job share, I think this aspect of tenacity, dedication, having shared value skills, strong work ethic, it all is very consistent with the information I've gotten from other individuals who today are sharing roles at relatively senior levels. What is your vision of workforce diversity and leadership in the next five years? What do you think it will take to get there?

Claudia Henderson: I probably would have had a different answer to this question two years ago, frankly, than I do today. I feel like I speak with a lens of being in the United States. I think there are a lot of good and bad things about where we are as a society right now. I think that the 'Me too' movement and the election in 2016 here, I believe, created a platform in many ways for talking about and appreciating the concept of diversity in a way that I don't know was even allowed before. Having been a black woman in executive circles for a while now, in leadership positions, I know in some organizations you actually felt uncomfortable even saying the word diversity. It was a taboo concept that made people defensive. Now, while it might still make people feel defensive, organizations not only appreciate it as a business imperative, but they are also realizing because they're seeing it on a day to day basis, that buying power is being driven in many ways by the extent to which companies look like the organizations that they purport to serve. Consumers are allowing companies to not see diversity as a business imperative. What I would have said a few years ago before 'Me too' and the 2016 election, is that it's going to take a long, long time for us to get to a place where we're able to appreciate and actually see some diversity reflected at the senior-most levels, not just in organizations, but in boards. I think those two factors have actually accelerated this concept in a way that I'm really quite excited about. Again, I'm saying this as a black woman in Boston, which is not notorious necessarily for being a very welcoming place. I'm excited about where we are, as it relates to that particular concept in business right now.

Sophie Smallwood: One hundred percent, when I think about what you just said here and the 'Me too' movement and the election in the US, it seems to me that a lot of the change that's happened at the corporate level could have happened earlier, as you mentioned, but only was nudged to the point where it is today because of an internal movement. In essence, the people had to make it happen. Is that what it takes, in your opinion, to actually change the culture of a company or does it come from above?

Claudia Henderson: I think it starts with people, about the technology world and how it's changed over time and this concept of networks and a network effect, the notion of social media as a collaboration tool people listen to. It's so basic when you think about it. We listen to our peers and our colleagues and our friends and we trust their opinions and seek out their advice because we care most about what they think. I very much believe that it starts with people internal to organizations demanding, and then I think leadership has to allow that challenge and debate challenge to culture and has to be willing to put a mirror up and really reflect on the extent to which they are acting on the values that they espouse. Because I think most companies, generally speaking, would at least say out loud that it matters to them, but I think it starts with crowds and is facilitated by leadership. That's what I think.

Sophie Smallwood: Give me the first word that pops to mind today when you think of job sharing.

Claudia Henderson: Alignment. Going back to the example I was mentioning before, the two people who I saw, really role-model the way a job share could work. Fundamentally it had everything to do with them being aligned.

Sophie Smallwood: So it's been around for quite a long time, job sharing, but yet it seems as though people have not heard of it and or they have those 'a-ha' moments like we both had. When you hear it for the first time and you're like, how did I never hear this before? Why do you think that is?

Claudia Henderson: Honestly, I'm not actually convinced people haven't heard of it at senior levels. I think some organizations resist it, given the potential, at least perceived financial implications of those kinds of arrangements and the fear of knowing how to manage those kinds of employment relationships.

Sophie Smallwood: So in the case where you have organizations that actually offer job sharing as one of their benefits, adoption even in those organizations is relatively low. Why do you think adoption is low when that benefit is actually available to employees?

Claudia Henderson: I've seen it used most often for women, in particular, who would like a degree of flexibility so that they can feel, going back to the earlier part of our conversation, some degree of balance. They want to be able to spend some time with their small children. I recognize it's likely used in a myriad number of different ways, that's how I've seen it used most often. Historically, it's hard sometimes for people to contemplate this notion that if I step back a little bit, if for instance, in those cases where somebody might be going from full time to a job share, it may in their minds feel like they're stepping back and think to themselves, gosh, how long is it going to take for me to get back to where I was once the arrangement is over? I think there's a psychological component that folks like you, setting up the kind of company that you are, that's something that will be important to solve for potentially. I also think, again, from a gender perspective, if it does require that you step back a bit in terms of salary, it takes a long time to get your salary to a place where it is today and contemplating reverting back from that, again, has a psychological impact that's hard. It may be hard for both women and men, but again, when I've seen these sorts of arrangements, it's been primarily for women. I think those are some factors that may contribute to lower adoption.

Sophie Smallwood: You're right, there's definitely a persona that seems to be attached to any kind of flexible work. I think that in order for us to progress and to make it more acceptable and perhaps for people's fears to be addressed and so forth, we need more men to embrace these types of flexible arrangements. How can we do that? I mean, how do we get men on board?

Claudia Henderson: I think that's coming. It's only been in the past maybe five years or so that it's become more socially acceptable. For instance, if we talk about the parenting piece again, that it's become socially acceptable for men to be either at home parents or not the person who's in the primary bread-winning role. I think this is something where it's a matter of time, social norms are changing and this is something that men will jump into if made available.

Sophie Smallwood: If you had a senior individual inside of your organization today who had been with the Boston Globe Media Group for a while and had an incredible amount of knowledge and had a proven record and really needed flexibility, do you think that you would entertain and do you entertain the ability for individuals to share roles?

Claudia Henderson: I'd like to believe that, especially to the extent someone has been a valuable contributor, has demonstrated to the organization both a commitment to the company and to our success. I would like to believe that we would be open to that. Now, obviously, just like any other organization, you'd have to figure it out financially. I feel like that's the key driver for most organizations, especially ones that are becoming leaner over time. Having said that, interestingly, we're actually in the process right now of going through union negotiations with our largest bargaining unit here. They're called the Guild and they represent our newsroom. That's our core product, so super talented individuals. The contract itself had been in place for quite a while, and I was surprised to see language in that union contract that specifically refers to the concept of job sharing, and I was surprised just because the contract has been around forever. So we actually, as a matter of contract, have those arrangements baked into our current CBA's. Now, to your point about adoption, to my knowledge and again, I've only been here for a year, but there's no one taking advantage of that. Clearly, as an organization, we've demonstrated the willingness to entertain these kinds of arrangements but your adoption point is a really important one, because as of today, we don't have folks actually exercising that option.

Sophie Smallwood: So when it comes to leadership diversity, do you think that role sharing in the future could potentially be an avenue to driving greater diversity at the leadership level?

Claudia Henderson: I think the approach could certainly help people appreciate diversity in many ways if they're job sharing with someone who is not completely like them. Once you work closely with someone who isn't exactly like you, your biases can be challenged. I think in many ways that could be a great result of greater adoption of a job share arrangement. I also think organizations could definitely use it to attract and retain people who may want some sort of part-time experience and actually have the ability to pursue other passions outside of just a part-time role. The key is to make sure that companies don't use approaches like this in ways that are nefarious. I wouldn't want to see organizations do this and say, 'anyone who's part time doesn't get health care benefits, so let's have a bunch of people job share so that we can get around those kinds of costs'. It obviously has to be carefully managed.

Sophie Smallwood: When a role is posted for any open job spec. Typically you're looking for a single applicant. So in the case where a role potentially is opened up to job share candidates, you could open up the pool and diversify candidates to individuals that perhaps never would have applied, and in essence, they are together meeting more of the job specifications than a single individual could.

Claudia Henderson: I like the idea, and I think organizations are going to need to do more of this, when folks walk in the door, it may be true that someone only has a portion of the skillset required to drive success, but a lot of skillsets can be developed over time. I think what more organizations should start to focus on is creating more utility players, because especially as organizations get more lean, a real challenge, at least I've found it in my experience, is that you've got lots of single points of failure. You've got a bunch of really strong skills in one person and if they walk out the door, you're in trouble. To an extent, especially an arrangement like this one, could, if you've got two folks walking in each with 50 percent of what's required, so long as those folks have a willingness to not just retreat back to what they know, but there's a willingness to learn what they don't know, that maybe resides in the other person, that could be a win-win for the individuals involved in the job share, but also for the organization to the extent that they care about that utility player concept that I just mentioned.

Sophie Smallwood: I love that, I spoke with a very high performing job share team at Microsoft recently, and they said exactly that. Together, they in essence helped coach each other. They both have diverse skillsets and it's like there's a learning and development built into their partnership. What are you looking for in candidates today? Is it that perfect match or are there other things that you're looking for?

Claudia Henderson: So there's me personally, and then there's the world generally. My own personal philosophy is I actually think this will become more true across the general population. I think we're going to care less moving forward about some of those core technical skills than we do making sure someone is an actual culture fit and has a mindset that is open, that is willing to learn, that demonstrates capacity to adapt and be nimble. But from a current state standpoint, I would say when folks walk in the door here, they probably have a good 70 percent of what an actual job spec calls for, then I would suggest that the extent to which someone will thrive and move closer to that one hundred percent over time depends, I would say, almost exclusively on how well they're led. I think leadership really matters.

Sophie Smallwood: How do you think roles will be shaped in the future, say, 10 years from now?

Claudia Henderson: I think probably roles will be likely a little more team-based, maybe a little more integrated so that the degree of differentiation across people might be less. My guess is that from a technology standpoint, in terms of the way we produce and deliver information, will probably continue to be fluid and change over time, I would suspect.

Sophie Smallwood: Is there a particular technology today that you think is really disruptive?

Claudia Henderson: Not that I would put in the category of disruptive, necessarily.

Sophie Smallwood: Positively disruptive.

Claudia Henderson: I think of that concept as a good thing. Anything that makes people think about anything in a new and different way, there's power in that. To me, that's a positive term no matter.

Sophie Smallwood: And that was Claudia Henderson, chief human resources officer at the Boston Media Group. She made me think, though sharing a role offers the benefit of flexibility to employees and for companies, retention, fuller skillsets, diversity of thought, more than full-time coverage, et cetera. Perhaps the message should also focus on diversity, appreciation and upskilling of individuals. People in a Roleshare have to almost literally walk in the shoes of those different from them. Also, the upskilling that occurs between partners is a way to insure the company from losing critical utility skills. I'm hopeful companies who offer job share contractually, will start promoting shared rules proactively. But until then it has to start with people asking for it. Equip with education to overcome perception blockers. Someone who wants flexibility has their good reason for it. And it's nothing new that losing a valuable employee is more expensive than trying to retain that person. In fact, according to the American Center for Progress, replacing senior roles can cost up to two hundred and thirteen percent of that person's salary. Thanks for listening and join us for the next episode of Talk with Roleshare.

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