“If you intend to work Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, but there’s a court mater on a Friday, then I would find myself desperately calling daycare for a casual day, or asking Mum to rearrange her life to come down on a different day. There was so much guilt that it was affecting my husband, my mother, my kids and me because I was so stressed all the time about how I can keep these balls in the air that probably would not have been sustainable in the long-term. And where I wasn’t able to rejig my day I was feeling very guilty that I was then handing over work to people cold.” said Emma Purdue.
In another example of innovative thinking from a leader determined to keep his female talent, Daniel Proietto, Head of the Employment Practice at Lander & Rogers, heard about a successful job-share from one of his clients, and pitched it to long-term colleagues, Amy Frydenberg and Emma Purdue. Because frankly, if two workplace relations lawyers can’t work it out, then who can?
This was parental leave number two for both Amie and Emma. Why were you looking for a new solution?
Daniel: We have got a predominantly female work-force in our group and we had three employees at the time who were on parental leave or had just returned from parental leave and I didn’t think we’d handled it particularly well the first time round. For me, job share was a potential solution for a litigation team in which three days a week was not working.
So, how does it work practically?
Emma: Practically, we split the week in half and we have an overlap day on Wednesday. So on a Wednesday morning once we’ve got in and checked our emails, we have a catch-up meeting. We’ve got a running sheet of all of our matters and we spend 15 minutes updating each other on what’s been happening in the first half of the week. Then at the end of the day Amie will send me an email with an update of that running sheet and anything that’s carried over that I need to pick up on and things that are going to carry over to the next week for her. I work through that list on Thursday and Friday and then before I sign off on a Friday, I send that email back to Amie with my comments on what’s been done and what needs to be handed over.
Amie: You know I probably feel more organised and efficient than ever in a way because I come to work everyday and I’ve got this sheet that sets out everything. We also have the comfort that if it gets to (for me) Wednesday night and I haven’t been able to finish something that Emma will finish it for me if it needs to be done by Friday or it can be rolled over to the next week if it’s not urgent. We’re both the kind of people that don’t just leave things for the other to do. We probably do a little bit extra because we don’t want to put the other one out.
Our success has a lot to do with our relationship, and good communication. We’re very open and honest with each other which builds trust and I think that they’re really the key ingredients to making it work.
What about for clients, how have your clients adapted to working with both of you?
Emma: For the most part really, really well. I’ve had some clients who have expressed an interest and support, particularly in the public sector. One of my clients said “Go Landers that’s great, really great to hear.”
Daniel, tell us about the business benefits?
Daniel: They’ve been significant because Amie and Emma are so much more engaged this time around than they were last time. We’ve also been more proactive from before they both returned. And this has led to two fantastic senior lawyers who are great role models for our team, being highly engaged in the life of the group and the life of the firm, which is an absolute benefit for the firm and our clients.
Of course we are going to have to continue to work at it. There will be times when someone comes back from mat-leave and there’s no-one to job share with. But we’re quite excited by the challenge and with the number of female graduates we want to attract, we know we’ve got to get it right. These are two fantastic, quality lawyers and quality people. And so we don’t want to lose good people, so that’s what we’ve had to do.
Do you think it’s a long term, viable option? Can you actually do job share as partners?
Daniel: I certainly hope so – we’ve had part-time partners in the past and surely this is just an improvement on a part-time relationship. But there’s always a dialogue to have there because it might well be that one job share partner wants to eventually move to full-time, for example. But I think we just have to be open to that, because the whole future of law, or work, is becoming more flexible. And I hope to see this available to dads too.
Your first time round parental leave experiences are relatable for many – tell us about the difference this time?
Amie: In addition to the anxiety Emma described, I felt the work I was given was work that was being given to me because it was something I could do in three days or by a first year lawyer. So I was sort of coming back to work after my first child, feeling a little sensitive and thinking, ‘well I’m not at home, and I’m not contributing much at work, what am I doing?”. The job share arrangement, as well as the workplace better understanding the challenges, and Emma and I being provided with additional support, has completely transformed that experience.
Emma: Returning to work from my first maternity leave, and knowing at the back of my head that I wanted another child, I was just trying to get as much done as I could. It was a bit of a scatter-gun approach. I was saying yes to everything and just constantly re-juggling instead of being thoughtful about how I would actually achieve the most in that time. And that’s where I think the job-share structure and the coaching support has really helped focus my mind – it’s been a strategic approach to my return to work.
I think I thought of everybody else first and had a lot of guilt about that. But the support from Grace Papers has made me realise it’s okay to think about what’s good for me, because at the end of the day it’s going to be good for everybody else too.