Claire Walker and Hannah Essex, known by their colleagues as “WalkerEssex”, share the role of Co-Executive Director at the British Chambers of Commerce, the organization that sits at the heart of a global network of Chambers of Commerce which represent tens of thousands of businesses of all sectors and sizes.
Restless sat down to chat with WalkerEssex on their reflections sharing a role, what’s worked for them, and tips on how it could work for other women in business—and why it absolutely should.
Claire and Hannah were headhunted, interviewed for, and appointed to the role of Co-Executive Director after job-sharing a director’s role at a social enterprise and national charity. For some, this situation seems non-traditional, but for Claire and Hannah, and the British Chambers of Commerce, it’s the perfect setup to ensure employees are able to balance it all, from career and family success, to personal fulfillment.
Claire and Hannah first met over a decade ago while working on a joint venture, and they stayed in touch. Their partnership, however, officially began when Claire covered Hannah’s role while she was on maternity leave. They discovered that, through their partnership, the foundation for their co-working relationship was built on shared values and shared ambition for the organization.
“We are really proud of what we have achieved since we started our partnership over six years ago,” Hannah said. Claire, of course, agreed.
Hannah and Claire’s partnership doesn’t just allow them to balance work and family life—though those are definite perks—but it makes them individually and collectively better than they could be alone.
“We have what is known as a ‘pure share’ in that we wholly share our role, rather than dividing up responsibilities between us,” said Claire. “And one of the most important aspects of making the set-up work is to agree to shared objectives and responsibilities.”
Hannah and Claire decided on effective methods of communication and responsibility-sharing that works best for them and their role at the British Chambers of Commerce.
“We take collective decisions on three things: strategy, people, budgets,” Hannah said. “For everything else, the one of us who is working on a particular day takes the decisions, with the other’s full support.”
Both Hannah and Claire have found success in their partnership through trust, communication, and support. But the most important aspect is to be the other person’s biggest fan.
“I cannot overstate this one, but we have to support and champion each other,” said Claire. “A key strength of our partnership is our willingness to give each other honest and constructive feedback. We discuss what is going well and what we need to work on, and jointly celebrate our successes and learn from our mistakes. This accelerates our professional development and has helped us acquire a huge amount of strength, resilience, and momentum.”
While Claire brings support to the forefront, Hannah believes that effectively utilizing and managing time has contributed to the success of sharing a role.
“It’s extremely important to use your time together wisely,” said Hannah. “We both work on Wednesdays, beginning the day by setting aside time to focus on any strategic issues. We then tend to head off to different meetings or work on different issues to maximize our reach and our value to the organization. About once every four months, we take a Wednesday away from the office (or our homes right now!) together, to consider whether we are meeting our objectives and plan our next steps. Our set-up allows us to bring our different perspectives and experiences into play as we tackle the toughest issues together.”
On top of time management, Hannah and Claire have both been open to embracing the evolution of technology, and, instead of viewing it as a hindrance or distraction, have incorporated it into their daily lives for the better.
“Make the most of the technology available to you,” Hannah said. “Recently, Claire heard from a long-standing, pioneering job share who started in the 1990s. They would write out their handover in an exercise book and leave this and their shared mobile phone on each other’s doorsteps. Thankfully, things have moved on. Our shared OneNote, phone number, Skype/Zoom, calendar, and email address have been critical to making our partnership work. We type notes in meetings so that we can each pick up where the other left off and keep a rolling to-do list, which we both update daily, and review twice weekly when we handover.”
Hannah and Claire are pioneers in the realm of co-sharing a role in the workplace, as well as advocates for supporting, encouraging, and uplifting women in the workplace, as well.
“We’re proud to work for an organization that values innovative ways of working and promotes women,” said Claire.
The British Chambers of Commerce now has a female President, Chair, and new Director General, as well as several other women in senior positions throughout the network. Thousands of women are part of the Commerce’s network through local Accredited Chambers, and the BCC continues—and will continue—to promote policies to support more women to join the ranks.
“Job-sharing isn’t just for working mothers,” Hannah said. “But it is a powerful tool to overcome barriers we face as women in the workplace and turn those barriers into strengths.”
Hannah and Claire’s hope is to see more female business owners, founders, and senior executives, as well as people of all ages and stages embarking on job shares or other forms of flexible working. Because it can be done. And they’re proof of that.
“We believe that job sharing has empowered us to continue to progress in our career and achieve great success,” Claire said. “And we want you to know that it’s an option for you to achieve your career goals, as well.”
To contact Claire and Hannah for more advice on job sharing, you can follow them on Twitter at @Walker_Essex and send them a DM, or find them individually on LinkedIn.
To learn more about the British Chambers of Commerce and their network visit www.britishchambers.org.uk
To find out about your local Accredited Chamber visit https://www.britishchambers.org.uk/page/join-a-chamber