Recently, in my role as Chairperson of Women in Superannuation and Finance Leadership in Conference, job sharing in senior positions, perhaps even CEO, was raised. The idea of a joint CEO was not new. Audrey Page & Associates currently have a shared-CEO position and in March 2017 when Scottish financial groups Aberdeen Asset Management and Standard Life announced a possible merger, discussion centered around the idea of the new business being led by two CEO’s.
In September 2010 “The Job Share Project”, was launched in the UK. It was founded in conjunction with Centrica, DHL, Deloitte, RBS, KPMG, Freshfields & Herbert Smith and supported by Cranfield University, Lancaster University Management School and Leeds University Business School. There was a realisation that global corporations operate round the clock and depend on their staff to be available and responsive to their clients' demands 24/7. This pioneering research investigated the feasibility and best practice examples of job sharing with a particular emphasis on transactional, client facing and leadership roles within global organisations. Interestingly, back in the 80’s the Australian union movement thought job sharing would be equally beneficial for women with children as well as for older workers (Benson 1982).
Many CEO’s report that it is lonely at the top. Whilst they have boards, senior executive teams, advisors, committees and so forth, the buck stops with them – and they are ultimately tasked with making the final decision. Ultimate accountability for business success falls with the CEO. The CEO needs to continuously make complex decisions based on ‘data’ from multiple sources. Data will be screened, processed and interpreted, alternatives developed and analyzed and a choice is made in regard to the strategy/approach in a conscious and unconscious manner. At all stages of this decision making process the CEOs’ perceptions, self-awareness, self concept, and even concentration will greatly influence what information they decide is relevant to their decision (Robbins et al 1994). Whilst decision-making models, rules and codes of ethics work in part to mitigate these effects, the question remains: are they sufficient in ensuring that the ‘best’ decision is made?
Perhaps then, group decision-making is superior to individual decision-making?
Traditionally, to mitigate the risks of individual decision-making, committees are formed and boards are consulted. Such strategies are based on the idea that groups bring diversity of thought, more information, increased legitimacy and acceptance of a solution. In addition, the ‘devils advocate’ in the group can potentially mitigate the likelihood of ‘group think’ (Janis 1982). However, anyone who has sat in a meeting knows they can be time consuming, there is pressure to confirm, strong personalities can dominate and responsibility may be ambiguous (Robbins 1994).
In reality, a mixture of group and individual decision making is preferable. However, the increasing speed in which business change is occurring, group decision making is not always practical and accountability is essential. Therefore could job share be a middle ground? In the words of Michele Jackson and Tricia Shaw the co-CEOs of Audrey Page & Associates “We have each other to work things out with – a built-in trusted adviser. So we can test those major decisions or strategies with each other and typically come to the table with a well thought out approach”.
I’m sure there are many readers who think that there are some roles that will never be suitable for job sharing because the role is “too complex” or the clients “too demanding”. I’d like to provide an example from a senior paediatrician who works at a Sydney hospital who was talking to a group of management consultants. She remarked: ‘You guys think your job is so important and your clients can’t wait to speak to you and you need to be on call 24/7. My clients are very sick and dying children and we know how to work flexibly. We have a handover process and we job share because no doctor can work 24/7.’ (Durkin 2017).
I honestly hope that in the near future, when Anna Green and her colleagues at Boston Consulting Group, repeat their study into the Gender Gap in the Australian workforce, true flexibility and job sharing will be the norm and they will see a significant increase in the number of women in middle management, senior management, CEO and board positions.
Finally, I would like to thank my husband, as it was through a conversation with him following the conference that the topic for this blog emerged.
Benson, J. (1982) Trade union attitudes to job sharing in Australia and some lessons for the UK. Industrial Relations Journal 13, 3, 13-19.
Durkin, P (2017) Epic fail on gender diversity. Australian Financial Review (on line 11/5/17) http://www.afr.com/brand/boss/epic-fail-on-gender-diversity-20170418-gvn0hz#ixzz4hrhRYV85.
François, N, ( 2017) The Power of Two - Our Co-CEO's Path to Parity! #PledgeForParity. http://www.audreypage.com.au/whatsnew/the-power-of-two---our-co-ceo--s-path-to-parity---pledgeforparity
Green, A., Alhadeff, M., Akhmetova, Z, & Tracey, C. (May 2017) What’s Working To Driver Gender Diversity In Leadership? The Boston Consulting Group
Janis, I. L. (1982). Groupthink (2nd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Robbins, S.P., Waters-Marsh, T., Cacioppe, R & Millett, B (1994) Organisational Behaviour. Concepts, Controversies and Applications. Prentice Hall
Rose, J.D (2011) Diverse Perspectives on the Groupthink Theory – A Literary Review Emerging Leadership Journeys, 4 1, 37- 57. Regent University School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship
Trapp, R. (2017) Can a CEO job-share work? Forbes 20 March. www.forbes.com/sites/rogertrapp/2017/03/20/can-a-ceo-job-share-work