External Relations Advisers at Shell see more of their young families by job sharing

External Relations Advisers at Shell see more of their young families by job sharing

Industry: Petrochemicals
Roleshare: Communication / PR Manager

Catherine Miller and Nicola Arthur have shared the role of External Relations Advisers at Shell for almost three years. Initially, the arrangement was a practical solution to their shared desire to each work for three days. Now, the pair are active ambassadors for the model and are delighted that Shell is encouraging them to apply for a role together in the new, reshaped organisation.

"A successful job share is not unlike a marriage – it works best when founded on friendship; communication and shared goals that allow both parties to grow."

- Catherine Miller and Nicola Arthur, Co-Advisers External Relations at Shell

What has sharing a role helped enabled in your personal life and at work?

We hold similar values in regards to how much time we want to spend contributing to the business versus caring for our young families. We both feel extremely fortunate to have been able to lean on our relationship during COVID-19. Catherine was homeschooling, Nicola was pregnant while looking after a toddler and we were building the reputation of Shell Aviation – a business serving an industry severely impacted by the pandemic. The pace of delivery and the needs of stakeholders, including the world’s largest airlines, simply could not be met by an individual contributor working 3 days a week.

What has it brought to your greater team, manager, organization, stakeholders?
Shell aims to become one of the most diverse and inclusive organisations in the world and recently outlined targets for improved representation of women at senior levels. The organisation appreciates the way we visibly champion and promote the benefits of flexible working to Shell. Without exception, we have received praise and support for the job share and the benefits to Shell are clear:

> A broader skill-set
> Resource flexibility both for holidays and sickness but more critically, when both employees work 3 days as we do, a “handover day” offers room for additional tasks compared to a standard 5 day a week role.
> Staff retention and promotion of senior talent

To quote a direct team member “Besides the obvious benefits of having two fantastic colleagues to work with instead of one, the team benefits from double the expertise, skills and ideas!”

What has it done for your performance at work and how does it compare to previous roles you’ve had?

Working as a job share has allowed us to do a role that would be unavailable to us if we chose to work 3 days independently. The main impacts on our performance compared to previous roles are:

>Exchanging skills and knowledge: We bring different skills to the role be that Nicola’s deep internal communications knowledge or Catherine’s brand and marketing experience. Our natural communication styles also differ. We assign work based on our strengths, share new ways of working and support each other to grow in the role.

>Increased confidence to take on stretch deliverables: having a dedicated partner with whom we can celebrate successes, lean on when things don’t go to plan, test those tricky decisions and share creative brainstorms with is priceless…..as is having a stand-in when the school calls demanding an early pick-up!

>Flexibility to take on new tasks.
Both working 3 days a week provides more time than a standard 5 day a week role. By flexing what each works on we can make time for those activities that are of interest but perhaps less urgent.

How did you secure and set up your job share? 

It is thanks to the sponsorship of senior leaders in Shell that we were able to secure our job share. What helped? Basing the business case on benefits to the company ahead of personal advantages, a track record of high performance and maintaining a network across the organisation - in our experience it is up to individuals to seek out potential job share partners.

At the time of Catherine’s first job share with Shell 8 years ago, the idea to share a role was introduced by a senior leader (an active diversity champion), and her team, who saw the potential of the model. As the manager reflects, “I was getting much more than the sum of the parts and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again”. The role managed multiple brands that could be split in two relatively cleanly; each person taking half of the brands. Nonetheless, this split meant some of the benefits of a true role share were missed; the cover was required on non-working days and we didn’t understand each other’s roles in a way that enabled deep idea sharing.
In this current role, we operate as one resource, delivering a shared set of goals with very few individual tasks. Our performance is reviewed collectively. This approach relies on a strong work ethic from us both, and respect for the other’s approach particularly when it may differ from our own. With the ongoing coaching and encouragement of our manager sharing our deliverables has been one of the secrets to success, removing any competitiveness and cementing a natural desire to collaborate together.

What do you do to make your roleshare successful? 

We credit our success to a few factors:
1. We are a good match: We recommend job share applicants benefit from a facilitated conversation to match skills, personality and career aspirations. It helps to share common values. Individual competitiveness is to be avoided!

2. We communicate and then communicate some more! With Nicola in Scotland, Catherine in London and our stakeholders anywhere from Singapore to Houston, we were comfortable with virtual working before COVID. Our stakeholders can and do talk to us as one person. The accountability lies with us to ensure the other can pick up a conversation seamlessly. We do not share an email address but we have a handover call mid-week and a simple spreadsheet to keep track of deliverables. As one colleague described, "I admire the way they jump between the saddle."

3. We compromise and respect boundaries; as with any role there are high value, high profile activities as well as a run of the mill tasks. We share these equally and give the other space to work.

4. Support from our colleagues: we are forever grateful for the support of our business colleagues, particularly the Aviation Leadership Team and our immediate External Relations team. We ask the business for formal feedback twice a year and check in regularly.

How do you handle your personal growth?
In addition to common performance goals and reviews, we have individual development plans where we tailor development activities to our own needs. To use the analogy of a football team; each player practices different skills off the pitch but during a game, we work together with the common aim to defend and score. We respectfully and constructively debate our decisions and are comfortable suggesting alternative approaches to a situation.

“I really enjoy working with Nicola and Catherine - their seamless communication and delivery are a credit to how hard they work to ensure the business benefits from their arrangement. Having two experienced people on hand gives me a wider perspective and range of skills - their different characters and varied background bring richness to their input that I would not get from one individual. I am delighted to champion this model to enable greater diversity and retention of talent in Shell.” 

- Anna Mascolo, President Shell Aviation.

"Catherine and Nicola are great role models for role-sharing here in Shell. They have successfully operated a complex and challenging external communications role for our global aviation fuels business. Both bring different strengths to the job share partnership which operates extremely smoothly and brings great benefits to the business. Before we put the partnership together, there were a number of questions as to how it would work in practice. They have all been comprehensively answered. We need to engineer more opportunities for our people to reflect the changing future of the workplace and to allow many more of our talented colleagues to find the work life balance that best suits their individual circumstances.”

- Emily Brand, Head of External Relations, Global Commercial.

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