Betsy Youngdahl and Valori Stitt consider it a compliment when a client or colleague mistake one for the other. In today’s competitive job market this reaction seems bizarre, but these two high-tech business managers think it proves they’ve succeeded in making their job share work.
Youngdahl and Stitt, who manage one of Hewlett Packard’s most prestigious business alliances in Cupertino, Calif., are among 400 Hewlett Packard employees who share the same job. As senior managers, they are also part of a small but growing number of professionals combining two part-time schedules into a single job. In a 1996 study of 1,050 major U.S. employers, Hewitt Associates, an employee-benefits consulting firm, found that 36% offered job-sharing options.
“We can’t make work easier, but we can give employees as much flexibility as possible,” says HP spokeswoman Mary Lou Simmermacher. HP has been a flextime pioneer since 1971, when it first began allowing workers to arrange their own starting and quitting times. Since then the company has expanded flextime options, which now include part-time schedules, job sharing and telecommuting. Approximately 1,000 of its 67,000 U.S. employees work part time, a change largely due to employees requests for flexible work arrangements. HP, along with a growing number of companies, view flexible hours as one way of attracting and retaining good employees. According to a 1993 study on workplace flexibility by Catalyst, a firm that consults on women’s workplace issues, nearly 60% of the women interviewed said they would have left their companies if they weren’t offered accomodating schedules.
How They Did It
In October 1996, Youngdahl and Stitt turned to successful HP teams for advice about setting up a job share. These seasoned duos counseled the rookies to write up a proposal, anticipate management’s concerns and prepare answers to address these concerns.
“The most important thing is for Hewlett Packard to feel there is value in this arrangement and that we’ve thought about how to manage the job share and how to make it seamless for external and internal teams,” says Youngdahl. Their proposal included details such as which days they would work and how they would manage the division of the workload. “Our proposal said we’re not going to split the job, we’ll both work on it together so that our customers don’t have to figure it out. We are virtual representatives of each other,” says Stitt.
Both women realize that convincing their bosses at HP — a company with a winning track record of job shares — was easier than it would be for women in companies without job-sharing role models. Indeed, as with part-time schedules, the biggest barrier to job-share arrangements is often a manager’s unfamiliarity with the concept. This fear could become a major stumbling block.
Making It Work
Communication is the winning ingredient. Youngdahl and Stitt have developed systems to communicate frequently through written memos, email and voice mail. “We do a lot of work behind the scenes to make this a success,” says Youngdahl. “We keep very good records of any phone calls, summarize meeting notes and keep lists and documents relating to what has transpired.”
Occasionally in the evenings, they speak by phone to go over the day’s events, and they say their fully wired home offices make staying in touch even easier. Both women figure they put in a few hours beyond the 30 they are paid for, but say the extra time is a small price to pay for the flexibility the arrangement affords them.
Why Team Up?
Like Stitt, Youngdahl had worked in various senior management roles at HP for many years. But when she was offered a high-profile job managing part of HP’s alliance with Netscape Communications, she hesitated. Caring for two small children and her elderly parents had become an enormous commitment and she wasn’t sure if she could do it all. She decided to accept the job with the hope that she could turn it into a job share. By doing this she could take the prestigious job but cut back on the time commitment. The downside: She knew her salary would probably be cut in half and her benefits would be reduced.
“HP was very willing to listen,” Youngdahl recalls. But, she adds, “It was very much up to me to find a partner and to find the right partner.” Youngdahl knew Stitt from previous HP assignments and she thought there was a good chance they would work well together. After a series of mutual interviews about work styles and philosophies, the two decided it was a match. “You don’t need to be carbon copies of each other, but your commitment needs to be the same,” says Stitt. Youngdahl says she listened to her mentors’ advice that “The critical factor is that your work style and work ethic are similar.”
Stitt said job share interested her because she was burnt out on too much business travel, her child was still small and her husband worked long hours as chief executive of a Silicon Valley start-up. So when Youngdahl suggested teaming up, “the lightbulb went on,” says Stitt. Not only was the part-time workload appealing, but the position itself looked strategically important and was a chance to build new skills.
Stitt and Youngdahl said one of the biggest advantages of being a team, for themselves and HP management, is that they can bounce business ideas off of each other. The old adage that two heads are better than one is true in their case. “It’s been a neat way to work,” says Youngdahl. “I think we come up with better solutions and are even more creative that we would have been individually.”
For career women considering job sharing one of the big questions is whether it’s possible to advance professionally. Youngdahl and Stitt say it hasn’t stopped them from getting raises and recognition for their work. “We’ve been able to demonstrate that we’re performing at a high level,” says Youngdahl. “The company sees value in the job we’re doing.”