case-studies

Olivia McLeod and Helen Cameron

Olivia McLeod and Helen Cameron share the role of Director of Children and Families for the Scottish Government. Their job share officially began just a few weeks ago in August 2016 and marks the first job share at director level for the Government. Both are mothers and factor childcare logistics into their day. But they are equally adamant that flexible working is for everyone, not just parents.

 

"If flexible working feels like a favour because you're doing something 'important' at home, it'll never be taken seriously" says Olivia.

 

"It's much more than a women's issue, or an issue for people with caring responsibilities, so we need to be clear about the benefits across the board," she adds.

 

In their new job share set up, Olivia works part time three days a week. Helen works fulltime across four days. Helen does three days as part of the job share and spends her fourth day with the Government's finance directorate looking at priorities and performance.

 

"It sounds odd that I work fulltime and job share. But it's great to demonstrate what's possible when you start thinking more creatively about how jobs can be done. Our immediate colleagues have been incredibly supportive and there haven't been any real hiccoughs yet. But the proof will be in the longer term - can we deliver everything - and more - with this joint approach? I'm convinced we will." says Helen.

 

Olivia, 39, originally started the job in August 2015 doing four days a week. Previously she worked part-time three days a week as a director in the Westminster government's Department for Education and even before her daughters were born she worked flexibly, doing compressed hours.

 

But in starting the Children and Families Director role, she knew quickly that the breadth and scope of the job went well beyond her hours. And she missed having an extra day at home looking after her daughters, aged five and two.

 

She said: "The catalyst was when my childcare arrangements fell through. I decided to make an opportunity out of a crisis and spend more time with the girls while they are very young.

 

"I didn't have great hopes that we'd find a job share solution at first as part time working is rare at senior level. But then Helen responded when we asked for expressions of interest.

 

"From our first conversation I knew we'd get on well. We've got similar energy and aspirations, and probably some of the same foibles.

 

"Helen had a real excitement about the role and was keen to give it a go. It's that passion that gives us the best chance.

 

"Having another day at home has been wonderful. For me, working three days rather than four makes a huge difference. I enjoy being a mum and I enjoy my job. And I enjoy both even more when the balance is right."

 

Helen, 50, who has two daughters of her own, aged nine and 12, previously worked for the Scottish Government looking at gender equality and how to increase diversity in boardrooms across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

 

She's worked flexibly for several years so she can be around for her daughters too.

 

She said: "Having more diverse teams delivers better business decisions. Allowing people - men and women - to work flexibly around whatever else is going on in their lives means you attract the best and most diverse talent. People have all sorts of reasons for wanting to work flexibly. Sometimes it is about caring for others. But I've had someone who wanted to do a photography course too. It's about the contribution you make, not your hours."

 

Both directors have husbands who work flexibly and help out with childcare arrangements. Helen's husband works compressed hours over four days for another public sector organisation. Olivia's husband works part time on four days for an investment bank.

 

Olivia said: "My husband started working part time after my first maternity leave ended. He was keen to do it. He wanted to have the experience of being a 'fulltime' carer."

 

Helen said: "We're able to share drop-offs and pick-ups, and he's around on Fridays when the schools finish at 12.30pm so he can be there for the girls. The fact we have flexibility on both sides really eases those logistical pressures on family life."

 

In work, they feel the benefit of their flexible arrangement too.

 

Olivia said: "Helen's experience is very different to mine professionally, so we bring different things to the table. I've really appreciated having another perspective.

 

"More generally, one of the great challenges in leadership is being able to let go of the day-to-day issues and get into the strategic space. It doesn't help that we're often rewarded for being 'on it' and knowing everything.

 

"Working flexibly forces you to take a step back. You haven't got time to 'know everything' so you prioritise more ruthlessly on what's really important. As leadership theorist Ron Heifetz said 'you need to be on the balcony rather than the dance floor' to see the bigger picture and working flexibly can actually make that easier."

 

Helen said while she and Olivia were taking strategic leads in different areas, they hoped to be able to handle queries on any issue. To make things easier for colleagues, they share one email, one phone number and one diary, so there is just one point of contact.

 

Olivia adds: "It's very early days. It's important for the credibility of this arrangement that it genuinely works for people and isn't just politically correct. But hopefully we'll prove it does work, and encourage more men and women to think creatively about how jobs can be done in the process."