Is job sharing the future for academics?

Academia operates within a traditional culture where often new practices in terms of working patterns are slow to be implemented. However, could a job share be part of the solution to addressing work stress and the gender pay gap?

Dr Rachel Lewis and Dr Jo Yarker

Dr Rachel Lewis and Dr Jo Yarker

Dr Rachel Lewis and Dr Jo Yarker, Senior Lecturers in the Department of Organizational Psychology, believe just that. Their arrangement represents the first appointment of its kind amongst academics at Birkbeck.

Research by Kinman and Jones recognises the stressful nature of the academic role and working environment, which is particularly acute in those more junior academic positions, and in women. Fifteen years on from the launch of the Athena Swan Charter, the gender pay gap is still at 15.3% and women are sorely underrepresented in Professorial and Senior roles.

“In working together, we can fulfil one FTE and as such be treated equitably on that footing,” said Lewis and Yarker. “This means that our workload is distributed in the same way as full time staff but beyond that, we can support each other and enable our mutual research goals to thrive. Job sharing has allowed us both as individuals to follow our passions, and drive our careers forward; we act as each other’s trusted advisor and support, meaning that we can really focus our goals and deliver more for the university than would be possible if we were working independently.

“Although we have a strong shared sense of where we are heading and what is important, and we often like to vocalise that we are interchangeable, we do do things differently. As a result, students we are supervising tend to gravitate to either of us for different types of support. The result is that our job share arrangement allows us to work to our strengths and our authentic selves.”

Strong friendships and mutual trust

The successful job share didn’t just happen overnight for Lewis and Yarker. It had been preceded by working together for a number of years. This enabled them to forge a strong friendship and develop mutual trust and affection. “When we both started to have families, we covered each other’s maternity leaves. It soon dawned upon us that the co-sharing of work was really valuable for us. We had always worked part time in academia (combining this with commercial practice), and so the job share was not to enable us to work on reduced hours but rather to have a more fulfilling, complete and supportive academic career.”

When asked how they manage the job share practically, Lewis and Yarker responded, “There are a number of different ways a job share can be organised, and we tend to do the ‘whole’ job between us, and flex our lead responsibilities depending on project demands and life demands.”

A growing trend

Lewis and Yarker’s somewhat unusual arrangement has been noticed by two colleagues in their department who have followed suit and applied for a job (successfully) in a job share arrangement too.

Janet Sheath and Dr Susan Kahn share the responsibility for the Department of Organizational Psychology’s coaching portfolio and from Autumn 2020 will be directing four programmes between them. Speaking of how the job share came about, Sheath joked that they sold it to the Department as ‘two for the price of one’: “Between us we have a considerable amount of experience as practitioners and access to broader career and coaching networks, as well as bringing our unique research interests to the role. I wouldn’t want to only teach or only practice, I’ve always done both, and we both continue to bring up to date knowledge as practitioners to the classroom.”

Kahn echoes Lewis and Yarker’s sentiments on the personal and professional benefits of job sharing: “Starting the role together removed the feelings of isolation that sometimes accompany a new position and we’ve developed a safe, supportive space in which to explore new ideas. We also have the same sense of humour and share a lot of laughs, too!”

Perhaps this is a sign of the future?

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Birkbeck shortlisted for University of the Year Award


This post was contributed by Professor David Latchman CBE, Master of Birkbeck.

Nearly 200 years since George Birkbeck established our institution to provide education to working Londoners, I am able to announce the excellent news that Birkbeck has been shortlisted for the Times Higher Education University of the Year Award. Following closely on the heels of this year’s National Student Survey, where our students voted us number one for overall student satisfaction in London, our new academic year is getting off to a good start.

The University of the Year Award is based on the 2012/13 academic year. Even by Birkbeck standards, that was quite a year for us as we saw a 45% downturn in our core part-time undergraduate degree enrolments following the major changes to the funding of universities in England. The award entry focuses on this crisis, and says:

“The College knew it had to adapt quickly or face an extremely uncertain and unstable future. By autumn 2013, Birkbeck had achieved unimagined and unanticipated success with a 335% increase in acceptances recorded by UCAS, the biggest growth in the sector. Survival was secured by the rapid expansion of a new Birkbeck proposition – a three-year, intensive, evening-taught degree, made available through UCAS. A well-conceived academic proposition and powerful marketing of a distinctive message through the unfamiliar UCAS pipeline generated soaring demand. Clear leadership, energetic cross-College advocacy and a whole institution determination to succeed ensured students arrived in the classroom in record numbers. Birkbeck was saved and a flexible, potentially sector-changing style of higher education has arrived.”

You can read more about our University of the Year submission on our news section. The winner will be announced on 27 November, and in the meantime please voice your support for Birkbeck in the comments section below, or at #unioftheyear on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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University – business engagement – the key to tomorrow’s growth

This post was contributed by Rose Devaney, Business Engagement Manager at Birkbeck

Last week, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) published a report called Tomorrow’s Growth: New routes to higher skills. It contains many interesting facts and recommendations, including that the government, business and the higher education (HE) sector should identify exemptions from the Equivalent or Lower Qualification (ELQ) policy which means that those studying for a second undergraduate degree cannot access government funding, and that they consider arrangements to mitigate the removal of the part-time premium which HE institutions previously received to cover the additional costs associated with recruiting and retaining part-time students.

The report also recommended that provisions were made to enable universities to respond to employers’ needs, and that universities work with businesses to build relationships in which businesses can influence curriculum development. For an institution which was established with the aim of making higher education available to working people and which has part-time and flexible learning at its heart, this report is of great relevance to Birkbeck.

What do individuals, businesses and UK plc want?

I’d like to think that George Birkbeck, the founder of our College, would have had some interesting conversations with Douglas McGregor and Charles Handy. McGregor’s most famous theory – the X and Y management style – suggested that people want to continue to learn, develop and fulfil their potential. Handy proposed the concept of the ‘portfolio career’ whereby workers typically have a cluster of different employers or types of contract and make career transitions over the course of their lifetime. Both of these theories encompass the idea of lifelong learning – maintaining your skills base, marketability and adaptability as employers draw from an increasingly age- and globally-diverse pool of labour.

So, if we buy into the argument that individuals want to continue to develop, what about employers? Research tells us that by 2020, there will be a 17% reduction in the need for administrative, secretarial and skilled trades. Conversely, a 48% rise in skills pertaining to management, professional and technical occupations is forecast. How will employers remain competitive and meet these skills needs if employees are not encouraged to train and develop and how will we continue to compete internationally if our workforce can’t compete with those from emerging economies?

As the CBI report states: “Skills have become the global currency of the 21st century. Without proper investment in skills, people languish on the margins of society.”

It isn’t all bad news. As a nation, we have one of the most successful HE systems in the world but we need to create stronger partnerships with businesses and more flexibility in our programmes.

So, how are we tackling this at Birkbeck?

We have a vocal role model in our President – Baroness Joan Bakewell, who is a champion for lifelong learning and understands that it “improves skills and kick starts new careers”. We are also putting in place operational initiatives to increase the partnership opportunities between Birkbeck and businesses.

Willie Walsh, CEO of IAG, at Birkbeck Business Week 2013

Willie Walsh, CEO of IAG, at Birkbeck Business Week 2013

In June, we held our fourth annual Business Week, a series of lectures and events by academics and keynote speakers to demonstrate the impact of research in working life and to solidify the connection between learning and the workplace. With keynote speakers including Geoff Mulgan and Willie Walsh, it was great to see students and employers networking around common interests.

We are also developing partnerships with professional bodies to shape qualifications which allow students to achieve a degree and a professional qualification at the same time. For example, our partnership with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales allows students to fast track their accounting career.

Mentor and student at the launch of the mentoring scheme

Mentor and student at the launch of the mentoring scheme

We are currently piloting a mentoring programme with Credit Suisse to support students with soft skills and give them a taste of corporate life and its culture. It’s great to hear that many of the mentors feel they are developing their skills at the same time as the mentees.

Finally, we are expanding our online provision and enabling modular enrolment on a number of courses to allow students more choice and focus in their subject area and flexibility in the intensity of their study.

Further information:

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