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Podcast Episode 1

Modern part time-working - from tackling assumptions, 
to rally car racing, to caring.

Is part-time working more accepted, nowadays? How have things changed? Why is it so important?

Sharon Foxwell and Jo Holdom hold a discussion with Alex Kihurani. Jo and Sharon have job shared at One Voice Media, a PR and marketing agency in Devon for 12 years, where they are Associate Directors. Both are parents and Sharon’s youngest daughter has additional needs, due to a disability. Alex Kihurani is a senior manager in risk advisory and analytics at EY – and is also a successful rally car racing driver. Alex has worked part-time for years to balancing rallying and finance. And now he has another reason: his baby daughter, who hasn’t had an easy start to life.

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Claire: When I say part-time worker, what comes into your head, a mum returning to work after having a baby, someone who lacks ambition, someone in a junior role? You wouldn’t be alone in thinking any of those things. But you would need to think again. Work has gone through dramatic changes over the last few years. And it’s time to bring the picture of part-time working in Britain up to date.

8 million people work part-time in the UK. Part-time is of vital importance to our economy. It keeps people in work when otherwise they’d have to leave and enables them to keep saving for the future. It can also lead to better work-life balance, greater engagement and productivity, progression and the opportunities to develop other areas of your life. But only when the part-time working itself is a good experience.

Hi, I’m Claire Campbell. I’m CEO of Timewise, a social enterprise that believes flexible working is possible in any role and makes for healthier, fairer workplaces. In this podcast, brought to you by Timewise and the longevity think tank, Phoenix insights, we’re identifying and celebrating the elements that make for a good part-time job. We’ll listen to some candid conversations from people who work part-time and have made it work for their employer, their career, their development, and their life.

Being a part-timer, only working part-time. The language we use could really play down the value of part-time working. But what is the modern experience of being a part-time worker? Has this stigma blown away? Is being part-time more acceptable, or are there still barriers? In today’s show, we speak to Sharon Foxwell and Jo Holdom, who have jobs shared at One Voice Media, a PR and marketing agency in Devon for 12 years, and are currently in the role of Associate Director. Both are parents and one of Sharon’s daughters has a rare medical condition which severely affects her health. Alex Kihurani is a senior manager in risk advisory and analytics at EY. He is also an extremely successful rally car racing co-driver. In fact, he’s currently joint leader of the British Rally Championships taking place at the time of recording. Alex has worked part-time at EY for years to manage rallying and work. And now he has a third reason to flex, a little girl who hasn’t had an easy start to her life, as you will hear in this episode.




Alex: I’m Alex Kihurani, I’m a senior manager in tech risk data analytics team. My other job is as a rally co-driver.

[Co-driver recording excerpt]

I’ve been doing that for the past 20 years, the last five years in the World Rally Championship and this year in the British Rally Championship.


Jo: Hi, I’m Jo.

Sharon: Hi, I’m Sharon, and we are associate directors at one voice media and a PR agency. Based in Exeter. We’re pretty convinced that our job shares one of the longest out there. And I work on a 50% hours. And I need to do that because I’m also a parent carer of a disabled child. I have worked at one voice media in a full-time capacity and then left to have my son and then returned working part-time and job sharing with Sharon.

Alex: At the moment I’m on a 80% flexible working arrangement. In the past I was as low as 60% when I was doing a full programme in the World Rally Championship. And for many years I was 90% when I was finding my feet in the European Rally scene. So that 20% I take off in chunks of time in order to do rallies in the British Rally Championship and also to take care of my daughter who has some additional needs as well.

Jo: We are lucky enough to be quite in sync with each other Sharon and I, so it’s rare that we… well I can’t actually think of an occasion where we have disagreed with each other. So we have a shared email address. So we can both see what communication is happening with clients.

Sharon: Our clients don’t have to care who’s in. And it also means that we are across absolutely everything. So when it’s my day and I come in to sit down, I know exactly what Jo’s done both with our planner but also with what emails have gone back and forth. So we’re not hopping about between inboxes and it just saves tonnes of time and makes communication really seamless.

Jo: We keep a document running, very simple document running.

Sharon: It’s just the most basic word document that we’ve had opened for 12 years. And it’s just got a table in it. So it is literally a table with action, update. And we put actions that have been done in green and actions to be done in – to be done in red. And that’s it and we’ve just kept this same word document going just saving over it for 12 years.

Alex: When I first requested my 90% working arrangement was around 2015, 2016 and I came up with a whole host of reasons as to how it could work, why it would be okay. And actually, at EY, they were pretty accepting. Actually what was happening at the time was, there was a bit of a push for flexibility. And what I found was I was then put in a flexible workers forum. And I was the only male in that flexible workers forum. And I was quite surprised that I was being celebrated for, one being a man as taking a flexible work arrangement, and two, being someone that was taking a flexible work arrangement, not simply for childcare, because they wanted to start transitioning it from something that just working mothers did to something that everyone could do, and also realising the reinforcing effect of just working mothers taking flexible working arrangements. And then males and fathers always working full time and how that sort of drives the gender pay gap.

Sharon: Are you still in Alex, are you still in the same forum? I just wondered how many men that were in it now, I wonder if things have changed.

Alex: It is definitely more common for men to be on a flexible work arrangement, I definitely know, have two friends at EY that now started families. And now they’re on a flexible work arrangement taking, you know, one day off a week to look after their child.




Alex: So Sharon, and Jo, I know we both work in client facing roles. How do you manage client expectations, and also delivering on those client expectations, both from a personal standpoint, and the expectations of the organisation?

Sharon: We were just talking about it. The other thing, it feels very different the world now as to how it was when we first set our job share up. So we felt we really needed to – we wrote our own proposal for a job share, it was our idea. We wrote a proposal, we pitched it into the owner of our company, it wasn’t a common occurrence down here, job shares weren’t very common, probably more to be found in local authorities, perhaps but certainly in private, small businesses, they weren’t particularly common. So we had to make a real case for that with our, the then owner of our business, who was very open minded and allowed us to give it a go. And then we also had to make a case for it to all of our clients and to convince them that they were still going to get the same level of service that they had got. So we really focused on making it as easy for everyone as possible. And it used to be something, really interestingly, that people would actually comment on quite a lot in a really positive way. Oh, that’s interesting. And we’ve noticed in the last few years that it’s not interesting to people with that is a really positive thing. Not only is it really easy, actually, they get the benefit of two senior brains on their account as opposed to one and halfway through the week they get – I describe it as a greyhound fresh out of the cage. And so they there’s loads of benefits to it. But yeah, in recent years, we’ve not really had to justify it or explain it. It’s just much more accepted.

Jo: I think that’s the thing. And I think maybe part of the reason we don’t have to explain it anymore is because we’ve been doing it for so long. Maybe we feel more confident about it than we were at the beginning. I don’t know, we weren’t exactly sure how it was going to work. And now we know that it does work. And we’ve got a long record of it working. And so we probably present ourselves and the whole job share in a different way than we were, than we did perhaps at the beginning. It doesn’t seem to be something that people question at all anymore.

Sharon: How does it work? For you, Alex, in what you did must be slightly different. Being in a managerial role. Are you empowering them to have more contact with clients and perhaps you might otherwise have had?

Alex: Yeah, exactly. First off, since my work schedule is reduced, I just have a few less clients, then other senior managers, let’s say most of them have an average of five clients, I have three. And then I just make sure that as far as all my client relationships that I don’t try to hoard them all to myself, I make sure I’m very open with the client and open with my team so that they all get exposure to the client contacts that we meet with. Relationships in the workplace are something that I definitely thought about, especially when I started as a manager at on a 90% arrangement. I knew I’d be asking a bit more of my team to be delivering on various projects when I was away. And I had to think, you know what’s in it for them to be covering me so I can be off somewhere, following my dreams while they’re in the office, delivering work on my behalf. It doesn’t really seem fair. So what should I do that can make it worth their while. And that’s when I really started thinking of investing a lot more in the people that I was working with and celebrating their achievements a lot more and helping understand what they were looking to get out of their careers and what they were looking to get out of work and how then I could support them in their career and the work they wanted to do to get them promoted.




Sharon: Alex both you and I have caring roles as well as our part-time roles at work, and certainly for me, my work is absolutely vital to my wellbeing as a parent carer. And I can remember so clearly when my child – my child has a condition called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, which is – a she’s nearly 10. Cognitively she’s around 18 months and she has a very severe epilepsy. So she has seizures, chronic seizures most nights. And in the years since she was diagnosed, she’s probably had, what, she would have had over 10,000 seizures, she’s had all types. So little ones, ones that dropped to the floor in a second, chronic chronic seizures, long seizures, pretty much every seizure type, she’s ticked the box off, and she has a, her epilepsy is described as intractable. So that means that drugs don’t work. So she also has a vagus nerve stimulator, which is a, like a pacemaker for her brain implanted in her chest. So she developed normally till she was 18 months old, and I was back at work, working with Jo on the job share, and she started to, um she had a seizure. And then two weeks later, she had another seizure. And then those were kind of put down to just one of those things. And then she started dropping to the ground, which we now know to be atonic seizures about 20 times a day. And at this point, they started running some very scary tests. And I remember, one of my first thoughts during all of this process was I cannot give up my job, because I knew that it was part of my identity. And also part of what kept me, I guess, somewhat emotionally protected from all the stuff that was going on at home, I could get into my job, get my head into a different space, and it was so valuable for me and I’ve held on with white knuckles, to my job ever since. And actually, it’s not – I say white knuckles, it’s been really enabled by Jo and the team at One Voice because the flexibility that I’m offered when my little girl has to go into hospital, if she’s had prolonged seizures, or repeated seizures, or when I’ve got appointments, I can do that. And being on a job share, I know that while I’m doing that stuff then Jo is at the other end, dealing with all this stuff at work, so I’m not going to come into a giant pile of emails and a load of work that I would otherwise. But I’m really passionate about parent carers of disabled children having opportunities to work because I think not only does it bring a massive benefit for the parent carer, because you get to keep the part of the identity that you have before you’re thrown into this crazy world of appointments, advocacy, special schools, all the stuff that can come with that. And it is a lot. But I do believe that parent carers for a child with a disability bring their own amazing skill set to work. And I know that my skills that I’m able to use at work have been massively enhanced through what I’ve done at home with my daughter, be that in cool in a crisis or when I’ve had to advocate or push back against senior consultants and I know that I can bring skills back to my work. So for me, the flexibility has enabled me to perform both of my roles much more effectively. Alex, I don’t know if you – I’d be really interested to hear about what your experiences are. I think you’re probably a bit earlier on in the parent carer journey to where I am?

Alex: Definitely a lot earlier on. It is really, really inspiring, I would say, just did hear a bit of your story because we’re still finding our feet. Our daughter is 21 months old. But she was born three months early, so she’s basically an 18 month old. She had a high grade intraventricular haemorrhage from being born too early. That resulted in something called hydrocephalus where you can’t absorb the cerebral spinal fluid in your head and your head starts to expand. A few weeks after she was born, she needed to have VP shunt put in which takes the fluid from her head and drains it into an abdominal cavity where it can be reabsorbed. And then she also had tissue damage as a result of the of the haemorrhage. So I think obviously if you’ve spent about three months in NICU, going through those things. My partner was on maternity leave then and then when she came home she developed fairly normally for up until about she was 7 to 8 months adjusted and then it sort of stopped a bit. And then when she went to nursery then started just getting sick with all kinds of things which are just trying to figure out and then in the past few months with her growth, the old shunt started having issues so she’s needed to have two neurosurgeries in the past two months, and those surgeries aren’t planned, so she’s fine, fine, fine. Everything’s great. And then all of a sudden, snap. She’s throwing up, she doesn’t seem well, she’s inconsolable. And then you’re in the hospital and then oh, yeah, the scan shows the fluids building up, and she needs to have a surgery today. And so it’s that sort of level of unpredictability and, and chaos that makes even just having a plan really, really difficult. So I’ve left my flexible working arrangement in a way to be able to just have a lot of extra time off. And I think everyone at work, they’ve been with me for the past 10 years. And they’ve been very empathetic to my situation and have picked up more than their fair share of slack when I’ve had to drop the ball and run to the hospital. But at the same time, as Sharon, you mentioned, the caring for a special needs child, I mean, caring for a child is self-sacrificial. But caring for a special needs child is just another level of that. And you can really, really lose yourself and lose all of your identity, and your sense of self and pride. If I think if that’s all you’re doing.

Sharon: I think I mean, I’ve obviously spoken about being a parent carer, and I think I’m very fortunate that I’m on 50% hours, that’s a fair chunk of the week that I have to myself. Had I been working more hours, if I was on 80%, I think that chunk would immediately get swallowed up with parent carer duties. Anyone in the parent carer world will understand that absolute massive stack of admin and advocacy and fighting and appointments where they just expect you to be able to turn up in the middle of a Tuesday, without any question. And so, but because I’ve got the 50%, it allows me to do that, which I must point out my husband does also work flexibly. So we’ve actually very early on, early on into our journey as parent carers, we realised that I could not carry all of the stuff that was to do, so we split the roles. So he became, in our household, head of medical, and I am head of education and social care. And that works really well. Particularly from a perspective of the load being equally shared with rather than one person being delegating to the other person. We just know what our roles are. So that’s worked really well, because I have the support of him as well and we both split it, I have a bit of time to myself. And I’ve used that actually mainly now for exercise. And it has helped me so much in terms of how I’m able to cope with the demands of being a parent carer, but also with work as well. And that’s something that I just didn’t really have built in. How about you, Alex?

Alex: Well, first off, I’m going to take notes on what you two do, because that sounds like a pretty good split. And we are maybe halfway there, but we’re obviously still finding our feet and everything’s a little bit chaotic. So we haven’t done that yet. But I’ll propose that and maybe we’ll, we’ll get a similar sort of split. We’ve both had times when, she has been off at work and I’ve taken care of everything. And at the moment, I’m at work and she’s off for a bit, so she’s taking care of everything. And then a lot of things get missed in communication. So this should be this should be a better way, definitely the way you’re doing it sounds like a much better structure.




Sharon: I think for me, part-time working just enables thousands and thousands of people to be in employment that wouldn’t otherwise be able to, and looking at that shining a spotlight on carers, for example, those are people that have got amazing skills, amazing resilience, and loads of other social and practical experience that they can bring into the workplace. And that’s just such a huge positive and I think there’s a real gap at the moment. And there’s a real opportunity for more carers to be, to be able to, to work but to be able to be welcomed in by employers who want to offer flexible working because people that care outside of work will have loads and loads of valuable skills. And it also, from a caring point of view, it does enable you to really support your own wellbeing and resilience which can only be a good thing long term for everyone.

Alex: I think for part-time working the personal case is pretty obvious. If you have other outside interests and passions you can go and pursue them. I think, from a personal standpoint, we’re all starting to realise that work isn’t all that life is about, especially when, not just when you have a family, that’s very important and you want to be there and known to your children and do the best you can for them. But also everyone has probably their own interests outside of their own work that they’d like to pursue. And being able to have a level of self-actualisation or being able to pursue other interests that you really have a passion for. You can bring a lot back to work as well with that not only just feeling more rejuvenated and positive and creating a better work environment. But also in being able to learn new skills and apply them to the job. And it’s not always obvious those skills that you’re able to learn and apply. But there’s, I think whenever you’re really passionate about something and you’re working for something that you’re genuinely interested in, you progress as a human being a bit more. And I think employers definitely get a benefit out of that, and also a little bit of reduction in labour costs, because they don’t have to pay you for when you’re away doing something else. And I’d also add that, because you know, employers that do flexibility well, and allow their employees to take advantage of it, get a lot more loyalty out of employees, and a lot more retention. And we all know how valuable that is, and how costly it is to continuously replace people. I think all of our examples, Sharon, Jo, and myself, we’ve all been at the same employer for over a decade, because they’ve been able to do something that works for us. And that has a tonne of value for an organisation to be able to keep people with that level of experience.

Jo: I completely agree. Alex, I think it’s really important for the workplace. And I do sometimes wonder what it would be like if part-time work was the norm? Do you know what, like, if everybody worked part-time, I wonder whether, you know, it would be an interesting to see product-, I think productivity would really rise. I don’t think I’ll ever work full time again. And if we all worked part-time, and that was that was the way that the workplace was shaped, I think everyone would be a better employee, actually. I think there were other advantages. And one of them that I really, that does occur to me quite often is, is we work in a creative industry, and actually it’s really difficult to be creative between the hours of nine to five, when someone asks, you could have an idea. And actually, sometimes those ideas come to you, they come to me, when I’m not at work. I almost sometimes feel like you need the space to be not at work 40 hours a week, perhaps, to have those ideas or to reflect long enough on something for whatever it is, that whatever challenge or problem you’re trying to solve. I can’t imagine how I would cope with working five days a week. But I don’t mean that in a sort of, you know, just the getting up in the morning. But I think that I don’t know how I would function like that. I don’t know how I would keep that pace going. And I don’t know how I would stay on top of everything that’s happening like that across five days a week. And I wonder whether people don’t actually, we think people are staying on top of things five days a week, but they’re not. It’s a shame that you can’t run that experiment.




Claire: We have heard two powerful testimonies here of life as a parent carer. Both Sharon and Alex value work as a key part of their identity, and are committed to their employers for supporting them through the challenging times they have had. In return, they make a strong case for the valuable experience carers can bring to the workplace, an amazing skill set developed through necessity. What also comes through in these stories is the importance of team. Successful job shares are worn about two heads are better than one. The holiday cover is built in, their clients get two perspectives, and someone recharged joining partway through each week. Jo and Sharon work seamlessly together sharing an inbox and to do list and really evidence the benefits. Alex also explains how important teams are for managers who work less. It’s worked for him to empower his team to make decisions and step up when he isn’t at work. Experiences which he makes sure will support their own interests and career development. What’s clear in these stories is that part-time working is a key enabler to staying in work. With people living longer working lives, there could be many reasons why someone can’t work a 40 hour week. They may need this flexibility for a short or a long time. They may know in advance or it may be a sudden need. Employers who support these requests will benefit from loyalty and commitment. As we heard from Alex, Jo and Sharon, it’s a reason to stay. When work supports your wellbeing and your life. It’s a win win.