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Job Sharers - Two Women, One Executive

Rita Brown and Sheryl Goodman, two working moms from Livermore, California, say thanks to their job-sharing situation, they have the best of both worlds.

They share a high-level management position at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where they are responsible for an $80 million annual budget. Yet they also have time to spend with their children and volunteer in the community.

Q: How did you two become job sharers?

Sheryl: Well, actually it was Rita's idea. I was working part time here at the lab in another department, and Rita had just had her third child, and I had two kids, and Rita wanted to work part-time, and that was denied. So, she approached me about job sharing.

Rita: So, we wrote up a formal proposal, and went to our supervisors about it, and they thought about it, and ended up saying, "No." I was pretty much weighing the thought of just staying home for a while, to enjoy my three children. People caught word of the fact that I might be leaving, and it went up to some higher channels. And the controller of the laboratory heard about it, and decided that they should give it a try. And so they agreed to try it for six months and see how it worked, and if it worked, then we could continue.

Sheryl: We've been job sharing for 12 years. We actually job shared in that job for about a year, and then we decided we might want to move on and try something different at the Lab, so we applied as a team for some positions that were posted. We wrote one cover letter explaining why there were two resumes attached, and why a job share team would be the perfect thing for their position. So then we got an interview here in this department, and we sold Mort Mendelsohn on the idea of having a job sharing team, instead of just one person to fill the opening for this position.

Q: Was it risky to propose a job share?

Rita: Well, I felt like we didn't have anything to lose, except for a little embarrassment if we applied and people thought we were crazy, and I think a lot of people did. We sent out maybe a dozen applications, and didn't hear back from most of them, but luckily one was willing to at least hear us out. Once he did, he decided, based on everything, the whole package and our experience that we were the right person for the job.

Q: You two were the right person for the job?

Rita: We try not to say "I" that much. When we describe ourselves in our work environment, it's always "we" and "us" and we try to not have that personal identity to it. We’re a team.

Sheryl: We're the same. We are the financial manager. It's not very good English, but that's the idea that we're trying to convey. We together, as a team, fill this position.

Q: You have a number of people reporting to you, how does the job share situation affect them?

Rita: We have about eight people reporting to us, and I think they love it, I think they really love it. We try to be very consistent, so they get the benefit of consistency, but also they get the benefit of a fresh point of view, and maybe a little bit less grouchy of a supervisor, because we aren't here everyday, day in and day out.

Q: Do your co-workers ever try to take advantage of the fact that there are two of you and play you off each other?

Rita: Actually, when we first started on this job, it was very new to a lot of the people,and they were just getting used to the idea, so there was a lot of experimenting going on. So, somebody would come talk to us about their budget, and they really wanted to purchase a certain piece of equipment, and they were going over their budget with us to see if there were enough funds available. And we came to the conclusion that they would not be able to get this piece of equipment, unfortunately. So they'd go away a little disappointed, and then the next day, when it was Sheryl's day, they came and tried again. And Sheryl knew, because we have this osmosis between us, Sheryl came right back to the person and said, no, we already went over that with you; you can't afford it. And the person sheepishly went away…it didn't happen again.

Q: So, you try to act as one person?

Sheryl: We do try to make it as transparent at possible. Our boss likes to call it a seamless operation. If somebody comes in on a particular day and has gone over some information with Rita, and time goes by and they come back and I'm here, we try to make it so they don’t have to tell the whole story all over again. They don’t have to repeat themselves, and we can just carry on from there, so that we're interchangeable. We don’t want people to be keeping track--it's Rita's day or Sheryl's day, you know, trying to schedule around that. They're always amazed by how we can pick up where the other one left off.

Rita: And we only get one set of correspondence, whether it's e-mails, memos, phone calls--we only get one set. So that makes it easier on people--even our performance evaluation is pretty much one and the same. So there isn't duplication of anything anybody needs to do, and we try to make sure people are aware of that and don’t bother sending two. When we send out a memo we sign it with both of our names, with one title. When people send us any e-mail, especially if it's people who do it all the time, it's R/S. When we sign an e-mail to people we know, it's R/S.

Everyone's just so used to it, I wouldn't be surprised if they think of us as RS, rather than as an individuals. And sometimes somebody who’s not quite used to us, somebody who’s new here will call us by the wrong name; we don’t even worry about it, it's not like it's insulting to us, we think it's actually kind of amusing.

Q: Does it ever seem weird to have such a merged identity?

Sheryl: It's actually the best job I ever had! Just having another person to bounce things off of, and get another opinion. We end up coming up with a better end product, after we've discussed it and kind of gone over things, than I think I would have by myself, or Rita would have by herself.

Rita: And also it is a very high stress position, and I think it really has helped over the years to have somebody to share the stress with. When you're really stressed out by a certain situation, it’s nice to know that someone's sharing that burden with you. Sometimes we aren't very popular, because we're kind of the bearer of bad news, and sometimes we feel like we're each other's only friends around here -- which isn't really true, but just sometimes you can feel that way, and it's really nice to be able to count on each other. And we have become very intertwined. But it doesn't bother us at all. I don’t feel like I miss having a sense of identity at all. We don’t feel competitive with each other.

Q: No ego getting in the way?

Sheryl: We have a joint ego.

Rita: We do. We're very protective of our joint ego. If ever anybody tries to insinuate that something fell through the cracks because we're job sharing, we're very quick to remind them no, that's not why it fell through the cracks. We're almost a little bit protective of that, because we do work really hard to make it work. And we do get a little offended if anyone even hints at the fact that there may be something that's being compromised, because we're so sure there isn't. We're so sure that everybody's actually getting more than they'd get from someone individually.

Q: Have you found the perfect balance?

Rita: Definitely, definitely. It allows us to have the best of both worlds. We can get things done at home and have time with our families and our children that we'd like, and not worry that our career's on hold. We don’t have to worry that the job's not getting done, we don’t have a lot of the guilt that we would have if we had to choose one over the other.

Sheryl: We actually also cover for each other a lot, you know, if my kids need to go somewhere and I'm at work and Rita's home, she can take them, or we pick each other's kids up at school. We’re substitute mothers, if necessary. A lot of times our families forget who's working which day, so my husband will call here, looking for me, and Rita says, well, no, she's at this appointment, or she's at the high school...

Rita: We always know where the other is. It's just a sixth sense or something. We always know what the other one's doing, and what's going on--sometimes more so than the husbands or the children do.

Q: Do you vacation together or get involved in projects together?

Sheryl: I sometimes do some volunteer work, and so usually when I'm volunteering for something, I think that--well, I can get Rita to help me with that. So I end up volunteering Rita along with myself. We took a vacation together once in our 12 years. We went to the Olympics in Atlanta, and my older daughter went with us as well. It was a little bit of an adjustment for people here, because they are used to having at least somebody here part of the time, and they're really pretty spoiled here, because if one of us is on vacation, the other one is here at least half the time. So we gave them plenty of notice, prepared them well ahead of time that we were both going to be gone for two weeks, and we actually had a great time. It was a great experience.

Rita: We both have a lot in common besides our jobs. We have children the same age, children involved in the same sports also, going to the same schools. So we do have a lot in common, our lives intersect a lot outside of work also.

Q: You don’t ever get tired of each other?

Sheryl: Well, job sharing with Rita -- especially after 12 years -- it's sort of like being married, except that we don’t fight. Especially we don’t fight about money, because we make exactly the same amount!

Q: When your kids are gone from home, will you continue job sharing?

Rita: We really have been doing this so long, we love it so much, we hate to give it up. I mean, if ever there's a financial need, we will give it up, and we've discussed that and we are ready to deal with it when we have to.

Sheryl: We've almost decided, though, that maybe we would share two jobs if we had to work more, rather than both of us work full time in two separate jobs, maybe we would even consider sharing another job in addition to this job. Just because we like it so well, we think it works out really well.

Rita: Even the times we have brought it up, say, ooh, that would be like a divorce, because it would almost seem that way--even though it would be a friendly divorce, it would be a traumatic thing for us. But, you know, we've always known that if we need to, we will.

Q: What does the future hold?

Sheryl: We're trying to figure out how to share an MBA, so that we can take turns going to class and end up with one degree with Rita/Sheryl on it.

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