BY MOTHERS & CAREERS
Welcome to our interview series, Inspirational Women. We are speaking to ambitious, impressive career women who have made flexible working work for them – these women have achieved the work-life balance that so many of us are yearning for.
Job sharing – a full-time job divided into two part-time jobs – is becoming a popular flexible working option. Meet two remarkable women who were not afraid to ask for what they wanted – and as a result have achieved the work-life balance that works for them and at the same time proven the business case for job sharing, successfully managing Baker McKenzie’s Consumer Practice in London.
Who They Are and What They Do
Julia Hemmings and Helen Brown are trailblazers at a leading London law firm Baker McKenzie, where they have a successful job share in a client-facing role. The lawyers’ key solution to a smooth-running job share is to ensure communication is seamless and to have a crossover day where you both are in the office to catch up and discuss your projects. Their job share has been very successful and the response from their clients has been overwhelmingly positive.
I am a solicitor at the firm Baker McKenzie. My job title is Of Counsel. I studied Law with French at the University of Birmingham (95-99) and did my Legal Practice Course in Nottingham in 99-2000. I then spent some time travelling before joining Baker McKenzie in 2001
I live in Wimbledon with my partner Seb and two children, Louis (7) and Poppy (5).
I am a solicitor at the firm Baker McKenzie. My job title is Of Counsel. I have a degree in Modern History from Oxford University (88-91). I did the law conversion course and the Legal Practice Course at Chester College of Law (92-94). I also have a Diploma in Intellectual Property Law and Practice from the University of Bristol (97-98).
I live in Wimbledon with my husband Paul and three children, Lydia (15), Esther (14) and Leo (12).
Working at Baker McKenzie
M&C: Tell us how you got here. How long have you been with Baker & McKenzie? What do you love most about working at Baker McKenzie? What is the company culture like? Do they have a good flexible or family friendly working policy?
Julia: I started my two-year training contract with Baker McKenzie in March 2001 and qualified into the IT/Com team in March 2003. During my training contract I spent 6 months in the Chicago office of Baker McKenzie. From 2006-2008 I spent two years in the Sydney office of Baker McKenzie. Baker McKenzie is known for being the friendly firm and I think that’s what I like about it the most. I work in a very supportive team. I also love the global nature of the firm, I work with my colleagues across EMEA on a daily basis.
Helen: I initially joined Baker McKenzie as a junior associate in June 1999. I left in April 2005 for 6 years to look after my young family but was drawn back to take on a part time project role in March 2011. Having worked at two other firms, what stands out for me at Baker McKenzie is the people – it is a genuinely friendly and collaborative place to work.
The Firm recognises the importance of helping employees balance their working life with other priorities outside work. We therefore have an agile working policy which in our team encourages all staff to work remotely for up to two days a week. We’ve had great feedback on the agile working policy and the benefits it has for achieving a better work-life balance.
The Job Share; compatibility, flexibility and a crossover day
M&C: Where did the idea come from to split your position? What is your specific arrangement? How do you divide the week and the workload?
A senior full-time role became available to head up the Consumer and Advisory Practice which we were both more than qualified for but we both wanted to work part-time. Our now department head, Steve Holmes, came up with the idea of the job share and we both jumped at the chance. It seemed like an obvious solution. Julia was already working three days and Helen increased her days to three and the job share was born.
Sharing a job has been mostly plain sailing from the outset. We realise that it was mainly down to compatibility and playing to each others strengths – we are very lucky in that respect.
Julia works Monday, Thursday and Friday and Helen works Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The crossover day has been extremely important as it enables us to catch up face-to-face once a week (in addition to being in regular contact through the week). We also tend to concentrate our business development (e.g client catch-ups and lunches) on Thursdays. It would be harder to run a successful job share without this crossover day. We take joint responsibility for all our matters and are frequently told by our colleagues (and clients) that our arrangement works seamlessly.
M&C: What were some of the initial challenges you had to overcome? What have been the reactions from your colleagues?
Our main initial challenge came from our colleagues – some of whom at the more senior level were uncertain that the arrangement would work. There were reservations about how transparent the firm should be to clients, how a job share would work in a client-facing environment and whether it would provoke a negative reaction from clients.
However, contrary to those fears, internal and external reactions were overwhelmingly positive and once clients did find out, their only reaction was “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?”. Many clients commented on how delighted they are to be partnering with such a forward-thinking firm which aligns with their own corporate ethics.
A strong partnership
M&C: What have been the benefits of job sharing?
The main benefit is how much flexibility the role gives both of us. We both work three long days but are able to fit it around spending time with our families and other interests. A real positive of the job share is how much we both enjoy working as a team. It is great to be able to bounce ideas off each other, discuss strategies for our practice area and follow up on business development opportunities together. Working in a strong and effective partnership has allowed us both to make a much more significant contribution to our area than if we were working alone. We are regularly seen with our heads together talking through the latest work challenges.
We’ve had several opportunities to travel together to the US, meeting retail clients on the East Coast and digital media clients on the West Coast..
In recognition of the success we have made of the role, we were promoted to Of Counsel in January 2015. We went on to win the Baker McKenzie Passionately Global Firm Award and were selected as panel members on the firm’s 2016 International Women’s Day forum to promote the job share arrangement (which ended with a poll where 2/3 of the audience subsequently voted in favour of working in a job share themselves).
We’ve also mentored and been advocates for Associates in the firm who are interested in working more flexibly and have helped with other job share applications.
M&C: Walk us through your typical, daily schedule; from when you wake up to start of the evening.
Julia: On working days, I drop the children at school and then head into work at Blackfriars. On Thursdays, our crossover day, we have our team leadership meeting so my partner drops the children at school and I head in early. Helen and I have a lot to catch up on together on Thursdays so it’s a busy day.
I try to get home in time for a bedtime story, cuddle and a chat with my children who have been picked up from after-school club by my partner .
I usually log back on to finish my work for the day and on Mondays I send out the handover note so Helen has it when she picks up first thing on Tuesday morning.
On my non-working days, I drop the children at school and then join my running club on Wimbledon Common. . I also help in my daughter’s class at school for a couple of hours every other week.
After school I take the children swimming, to visit friends or to the park. I really enjoy having these precious afternoons together with them.
Helen: The first part of my day is focused on getting the kids up (not always easy with teenagers!) and ensuring everyone has breakfast and what they need for school before they head off. On working days when I go into the office I use the time on the Tube to catch up on emails. A typical day is spent preparing client advice, discussing ongoing projects with colleagues, on calls or video conferences and attending meetings.
I tend to leave the office at around 18.30 – 19pm to head back home to see the family. We have recently made the decision not to have any childcare – so we have a family rota for preparing the evening meal and tidying up afterwards. The system still needs to be refined but it does mean that my husband and I get to sit down with the children to eat every evening – which wasn’t the case when we had a nanny.
I do check emails and work in the evenings. Before having children, I would stay in the office later in the evening but now I go home to the family and then finish things off at home before the end of the day. Bedtime is never as early as it should be.
On non-working days I like to spend as much time outdoors as possible – I run on Wimbledon Common and most Friday mornings cycle round Richmond Park with a group of friends.
Motherhood and Work-Life Balance
M&C: Tell us a little about your journey to your current role. Did you take a maternity leave or extended career break when having children? How did the transition go when you went back to work?
Julia: I took a year’s maternity leave when each of my children were born. I then went back to work in a part time, 3 days a week role which was difficult to juggle at times without dedicated support in the office. The job share was the ideal solution.
Helen: After 6 years at Baker McKenzie – including 2 maternity leaves – I decided to leave to become a full time mum. I spent 6 (mostly) enjoyable years at home with three small children – immersed in lots of nappy changing and playgroups. At the time I had no intention of coming back to either Baker McKenzie or the law, but it is funny how your perspective changes over time. I had kept in touch with the team here at Baker McKenzie and when a short-term project came up, not long after my youngest started school, I jumped at the chance of re-joining the team.
M&C: What does work-life balance look like for you? How do you juggle motherhood and your career? What are your favourite ways to relax and unwind?
For us, work-life balance is having a rewarding career, yet at the same time being there for our children as they grow up. It also helps being at home a few days a week to get sorted, so that we can spend more time enjoying family life at the weekend. The job share means we each know that our practice is in great hands on our non-working days – that’s very valuable to us.
Julia: I’ve been with my running club for 18 months. This year I did a half-marathon in July and the 10 mile “Cabbage Patch” in October and I’ve just taken the plunge and have a place in the London Marathon in April 2018 raising money for our firm charity, the children’s hospice Richard House – which still feels quite daunting.
Otherwise my favourite things to do are going out with friends, celebrating birthdays and sharing a bottle of wine with my partner.
Helen: I love to get away from my desk into the outdoors – whether that’s to tackle the weeds in my overgrown garden, or go for a ride out to the Surrey Hills on my bike. I am very lucky that the part of London I live in has so many great open spaces. I love gardening and did – for a few years – have an allotment with a friend in Wimbledon.
M&C: What are your top inspirational books or blogs that you read?
Julia: My favourite book at the moment is “Wonder”, which I read at Book Group and we then read to the children at home. The message in the book is to always be a little kinder than is necessary – which we have been talking to the children about, but is also something which I try to keep in mind too (not always easy!)
Helen: I very much enjoyed reading “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg – so much of it rang true to my 30 year-old self.
Advice and top tips
M&C: What advice would you give to someone interested in sharing a job?
Set some simple rules from the start and work out the rest as you go along. What worked best for us was ensuring that from the start we were very open with each other and ensured that we shared the work evenly. We haven’t divided clients into ‘Julia’ clients and ‘Helen’ clients and do most of our business development together. As a result, we’ve noticed that clients really appreciate meeting us both and knowing that one of us will always be available across the working week.
M&C: Any great tips you would like to give us?
Julia: Cut yourself some slack and don’t judge yourself by other people’s standards. For most of the time, the balance works for me, but I totally accept that it wouldn’t work for everyone – we all have different aspirations.
Helen: Don’t be afraid to ask! I think that women are more reticent in putting themselves forward or for asking for what they want (be that a pay rise or a part time job). I also think that my experience shows that career doors can re-open. I had 6 years away from the law and have been able to get myself back into a career that I thought I had walked away from.
M&C: When you wake up in the morning, what do you look forward to the most?
Julia: Cuddles with my family.
Helen: My morning cup of tea!