Happier as Mother & Wife through Sharing a Job


Two working moms share one full-time position.

For Shelley Murray, an athletic mom from Woburn, MA, the tug-of-war between her high-level banking job and her family's needs transformed mundane tasks into Faustian dilemmas. One day, when she was running late to pick up her son at preschool, she realized that she also needed a gallon of milk. Should she pull over and be late (again), or should she pick Adam up on time and drag him into the grocery store? "I am sitting in traffic, debating, and it just hit me," says Murray. "I went, 'You are trying to budget time to buy milk. This is insane!'"

The very next day, Murray called Cindy Cunningham, a colleague who had proposed a job share. "I did have some success with a four-day week for a while," recalls Cunningham. "But I always felt I was doing five days of work in four days—and getting paid for four." After reading a chapter on job sharing in Charlene Canane's definitive book, Part Time Solution, Cunningham decided to give it a try. "I didn't know Shelley would be the perfect jobsharing partner, but I did know we had a similar work ethic," she says.

Despite decades of family-friendly rhetoric, only 19 percent of companies surveyed in 2005 by the Society for Human Resource Management allow job sharing—even though it's proven to help to retain valuable employees and prevent burnout. Job sharing is sometimes seen in lower-level positions, but is rare among executives. Nevertheless, Murray and Cunningham challenged their employer, FleetBoston, to support a shared executive position

The two women created a combined resume, networked aggressively, and launched an internal search for a shared position. They told prospective employers that they were committed to climbing the corporate ladder, and maintaining institutional clout; that they sought balance, but not at the cost of their careers. It took them at least 15 interviews, but they finally landed a joint vice presidency—a prestigious title and a salary double their individual paychecks.

Murray and Cunningham structured their job share so that each worked two-and-a-half days a week, with one overlapping morning. "If the company needed us both for presentations or meetings we both came in," recalls Murray. "We didn't split projects. We had a book where we wrote down everything that happened on a given day. And then on our own time we'd communicate about all that happened that day." To maintain a seamless appearance for colleagues and clients, both women checked voicemail on days out of the office; their detailed meeting notes—including colleagues' comments and body language—were recorded in their shared journal. The two worked so well together that clients perceived them as a team and few people outside of their division even realized they shared a job.

The two worked in that position for six years, until their department was dissolved following a company merger. After some time off, Murray and Cunningham tackled their job hunt as a team. It wasn't easy: some executive search firms dismissed them as part-timers, and several prospective managers were intimidated by the arrangement. "It was exhausting because every time you picked up the phone you had to explain that it wasn't just Shelley Murray looking for a job. It was the two of us," Murray recalls. Every time they won an audience with a potential employer, the duo was quick to sell the benefits of a shared arrangement: no burnout, and 100 percent focus in the office.

A year later, they landed a position at Eastern Bank where they serve as vice president and business development officers. Now, Murray buys milk whenever she pleases. In addition to having more time for their families and for themselves, they have the freedom to give back to their communities. "The most profound change for me was to be both a mom and an executive, and to be able to be present at both," says Cunningham. "I can't imagine any other way to live."

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.