Anna-mai Andrews and Katie Fowler have been co-CEOs at Chance for Childhood for over 2.5 years. "When the initial idea was proposed to the Board it was fair to say that not everyone was bought into the idea," says Chair of the Trustees of Chance for Childhood, Mirco Bardella, "the fact that every Board member is now 100% behind the Co-CEOs is the biggest indictor of its success, alongside the growth in the impact of the organization in recent years. The clear benefits of the job share are the complementary work styles and skills which the CEOs bring."
A successful job share is never a struggle for power. It enables us to work to our strengths as our skill set and competencies are very different.
Anna-mai Andrews and Katie Fowler - Co-CEOs Chance for Childhood
What has sharing a role helped enabled in your personal life and at work?
Anna-mai - When I started the job share it seemed like the perfect solution to the ever-competing demands of raising little ones whilst trying to perform in a very demanding role. As everyone says it’s lonely at the top, ever more so when you work in a sector which is underfunded and emotionally draining due to the urgent needs of the children we support. I love my job but I knew when I became a mum I needed to find a better balance. I didn’t realise at the time but it was such a significant decision in my life.
During the first year of our job share I was able to properly support my dad and family through his terminal illness, being available to ensure I was there at the hospital when I needed to be and had the flexibility to cope with his illness and eventual loss. People think that job shares are all about mums but all of us have unique personal responsibilities as well as different passions and commitments. Being in a job share means you can still go for that top job whilst maintaining the other important aspects of your life. Having been a CEO for over 5 years when I came to the job share, people were amazed I could “give up power”. This is another misconception of the job share, a successful job share is never a struggle for power. Katie enables me to work to my strengths as our skill set and competencies are very different. I call her my other half as she has been with me through thick and thin, bad times and good. After my second maternity leave I came straight out of 8 days in an isolation unit in the hospital with my daughter to return to work without childcare. It was testing in every sense but solid communication throughout helped us make it through and has enabled us to stabilize Chance for Childhood through its most challenging financial period.
Katie - I took on the position of CEO for Anna-mai’s maternity cover when I had a busy toddler at home and was soon to be pregnant with my second. I was absolutely determined not to make sacrifices to my career in order to raise my family – it was more than a job, it was a point to prove. Looking back, that period was one of the most stressful in my career to date. I left for my second maternity speculating about what sort of compromise I would need to make when I returned to work. When Anna-mai suggested the idea of a job share in the CEO role I instantly knew that we would be able to make it work. Since 2018, I’ve been able to meet the needs of my young family without sacrificing my career, or my commitment to Chance for Childhood. This has never been so important than in the last year during the COVID Pandemic which brought a whole new set of competing priorities that we didn’t know were possible. I feel so incredibly lucky to have had the support of Anna-mai through extremely stressful periods of home-schooling and I’m closer to a work-life balance than I’ve ever been.
What has it brought to your greater team, manager, organization, stakeholders?
We’ve shown our team a commitment to women in leadership and have developed a culture which does not limit ambition, but demonstrate how you can shape your career as long as you think creatively and are solution-focused. We have found that we have attracted talent to our organization due to our job-share and more effectively manage stakeholders and donors because we cover the whole week, as well as holidays, illnesses and any other leave periods between us – so we can provide continuity and timely responses. Critically, we have had four babies between us during our time at Chance for Childhood and there has been continuity of leadership for the organization throughout this period.
What has it done for your performance at work and how does it compare to previous roles you’ve had?
We both agree that our job share has been key to preventing burn out. Both of us have held the role of CEO individually and it’s not only an enormous job but a lonely one too. We benefit so much from peer support and solidarity when difficult decisions need to be made - sharing the emotional and the physical workload.
How did you secure and set up your job share?
In some ways our job share was very organic as we had worked together for seven or eight years prior to setting up our job share. However, the concept of a job share was totally new to our organization and we were aware that at CEO level it was even less common or understood. We prepared a written pitch which included a summary of our strengths, weaknesses and how we could deliver a complementary partnership. We also included a risk analysis and sought consultation with our staff team. Our Board of Trustees were incredibly supportive to test this new approach and now see the clear benefits to having us lead the organization jointly.
What do you do to make your roleshare successful?
We have shared values and a shared vision for the organization. This is important in any role, but as an International NGO working to support children in vulnerable situations in Africa, there is a lot at stake and misalignment on either of these could significantly stifle our impact. We know each other well and have invested time in ensuring that we understand each other’s motivations and way of thinking. Open communication has been critical to our success and, whilst we are highly respectful of each other, we also unreservedly critique decisions and make time to self-reflect to ensure we keep learning and growing our joint leadership approach.
How do you handle your personal growth?
Our personal growth is driven by each of us respectively. We are not the same person and have different styles, strengths and development areas. It’s been really important that we are able to make space to assess our own personal growth away from the day to day of our job share. That said, we have also really enjoyed working together with a leadership coach jointly as this gives us an opportunity to reflect on our joint decision making, our communication and to continually review the allocation of our responsibilities – which we do on a cyclical basis.
"This powerful combination of strengths was most visible last year, when they successfully navigated the uncertainties brought by the global pandemic coupled with a funding crisis in the international development sector and challenged themselves to bring about significant change both strategically and structurally to survive and grow. Their exemplary leadership has placed us in a very unique position in the sector to continue our vital work while continuing our journey to shift power to the children, young people and communities we work with. Having a job share of two female CEOs undoubtably leads our diversity and inclusiveness drive, evidenced in our global Leadership and Governing Board."
- Mirco Bardella, Chair of Trustees, Chance for Childhood
"Having Anna-mai and Katie as Co-CEOs makes such a big difference to us as a charity, helping to provide a much broader perspective. They have two sets of views and expertise, but one joint vision! Anna-mai and Katie are really good at playing to each other’s strengths and their differences complement each other, making them a powerful team. I also find it hugely inspiring to work for an organisation that is so open and willing to look at new ways of working. Having female leaders who are also mothers is so important for showing other women that you don’t have choose one or the other, with a role-share you can do both."
- Alice Barley, Director of Fundraising, Chance for Childhood