After the unprecedented events of 2020, and the pandemic’s continuing threat to social and economic stability, many employees are struggling with the pressure of being ‘always on’.
Women in the workplace have been disproportionately effected, both emotionally and financially. Working mothers – used to doing a full day at work, followed by caring for children and the home – have had the extra burden of home-schooling.
Whilst women in senior positions, are struggling with the increasing blur between work and homelife.
The choices a company makes today will have consequences on gender equality for decades to come.Women in the Workplace – McKinsey, September 2020
Roleshare is a platform matching skilled professionals who seek part-time work, to co-apply for full-time jobs. Their mission is to enable a sustainable, diverse, and happy workforce by making it easy for companies and individuals, to find and create job shares.
So, Be More Girl talked to Sophie Smallwood; Co-CEO of Roleshare and mother of two, to find out how this tech startup can be part of a post-pandemic recovery, for women in the workplace.
Tell me a little about your backstory…the people, places and experiences that inspired Roleshare?
I think it probably goes way, way back to my childhood. My mom passed away when I was 28; she was a strong woman and always encouraged me to make my own money, so if ever I needed to exit a situation, I’d be able to. So, independence – that’s the core of my motivation.
I majored in marketing and advertising, and was working in Los Angeles. I volunteered once a week at a community service organisation, and I met a woman there who was a director of a huge ad agency. She had young twins, and I remember asking her, “how are you balancing all this?”.
She told me she shared her job, and explained she wanted to be able to spend time with her kids, but she was also passionate about her career. Both her and a colleague were at a point in their lives where they needed flexibility, and they happened to have skills that could merge. It’s a conversation that stuck with me.
I went from working in advertising, to eBay; I saw that the world was moving to digital. I’m the sort of person who likes to see results quickly, so going into the tech space was a match made in heaven for me.
Then, I had a great opportunity to work at Workplace by Facebook – it was a startup in its very early stages. My dream job in many ways; travelling across Europe, working with interesting enterprise customers.
We worked with organisations to help ensure successful adoption of this new enterprise communication tool, amongst employees. So that was really good experience for me, and feeds into what we’re doing with Roleshare.
I was 37, when I was pregnant with my first child. I’d heard the stories about what happens to women, when they leave the workforce to have children. As my career has always been a big part of my life; my self-confidence and self-identity, I said, “no no no this isn’t going to happen to me – absolutely not.”
I remember thinking, how am I going to sustain being an A-player at Facebook, whilst also wanting to be an A-player parent.
We were about to bring this human being into the world, who does not have a choice – we’re making that decision; I want to give that little person the best possible nurture, love and attention. But at the same time, I also want to sustain my career, so how am I going to do that?Sophie Smallwood, Co-CEO Roleshare
That’s when the story of the woman I met in LA nine years prior, came back up. I talked it through with my husband, Dave. He was a director at PayPal at the time, and had experience managing employees who wanted to scale back their hours.
We started thinking about how a tech platform could enable the discovery of shareable jobs and potential matches, at scale.
Now Roleshare’s Co-CEO, I remember Dave starting his second term at London Business School doing his executive MBA, when our first baby was born. We have a photo of him pitching the concept of Roleshare in a ‘new ventures’ class, with a projected image of me in hospital with Leo, who’s literally just a few days old.
We’re about a year and a half into our journey with two babies in between, and COVID (which has been a nightmare for us all).Sophie Smallwood, Co-CEO Roleshare
We certainly didn’t expect a pandemic, in that we’d all be stuck in the house together. But Dave and I are really different in many ways; like ying and yang. I’m learning so much from the things he knows, and he’s learning from me – we can really boost each other up.
Can you tell me more about Roleshare’s purpose?
Our mission is to enable a diverse and happy workforce by enabling professionals who want to work part-time, to pair up for full-time jobs.
It comes down to happy equals wellbeing, doubling-up equals diverse talent; bringing in talent that otherwise wouldn’t be inside the organisation. That’s really the core of everything we do; it’s guiding our product decisions from a tactical and strategic perspective.
So how does Roleshare work, is it similar to a dating app?
It is like dating in many ways; you need to ensure you trust the individual you’re matched with. So obviously, the human side is a very important part of this.
Would you want to marry someone you just connected with on the tinder app? No, you would want to meet them in person first. So, it’s the same thing.Sophie Smallwood, Co-CEO Roleshare
We have a 5-step guide to sharing a role. So, part of the process is gauging chemistry; there needs to be a self-vetting of the talent themselves – whether it’s virtually or over coffee — when you can see whether or not you jive.
Our product is still in its infancy, so how we match people will evolve overtime. We’re looking at how to create the best matches possible, and that’s driving everything we’re doing from a technology perspective.
Who does Roleshare serve?
Roleshare is for people who want to achieve that much sought after work-life balance. That’s who we support.
It’s for people who want to work part-time, without the baggage that often comes with it, like lower income, reduced benefits and career advancement; especially in large companies, where more strategic, senior roles often aren’t offered part-time.
You might be getting this 3-day equivalent salary but because you’re more senior, it’s still good money.Sophie Smallwood, Co-CEO Roleshare
Working part-time isn’t for everyone because obviously sometimes you need that full-time salary, but this is also the beauty of role sharing.
About 50% of Fortune 100 companies want to support employees through job sharing but it’s a pretty complex manual process, trying to figure out who will match with XYZ. Our job is to make it viable for organisations to work this way, by taking that burden out of the equation and automating it.Sophie Smallwood, Co-CEO Roleshare
When companies use Roleshare, there are so many different benefits. An increase in employee wellbeing, for one. In the UK, they did a study where they found that civil workers in a shared role have a 12% higher level of wellbeing, compared to any other way of working.
There’s also research from Capability Jane and the Job Share Project, where they found a 30% productivity gain. It makes sense when you think about it.
There’s nowhere to hide — the sheer notion of having to hand your work over on a weekly basis means that you have to perform at a higher level, much more than you would if it was just you in the job.
From all our qualitative interviews for our podcast, every single person has in some way shape or form, said they were at their best performance-wise, when they were in a shared role.
There is also the cross-pollination aspect – two people just bring more to the role – both from a skills, and diversity point of view.
What if people want to have a portfolio career where they are a marketeer and also a botanist. Exploring those side gigs that have historically been ignored because you had your job, and that’s all you could do – that’s your life.Sophie Smallwood, Co-CEO Roleshare
Also, job sharing is a great option for companies who want to support employees going through different transitions, throughout the course of their life. It could be health-related, or a desire for further education.
So of course, this helps with retention; you’re retaining talent that would otherwise leave because they are burnt out. We know wellbeing drives retention, so again, it all ties back to wellbeing.
How can Roleshare support women and other underrepresented voices, in the workplace?
The obvious way it can support women, is women with children who want to come back to work on a part-time basis.
The other thing, too (something that I’ve experienced doing a startup with my husband, and other ventures in the past with friends), is there’s something about having a buddy that gives you confidence.
Imagine if people could apply for roles knowing that they are going to bring the best of themselves into that role, and there will be somebody, a buddy that will also bring their skills, and that you get to do this together.
There’s a huge amount of learning that happens in a role share, even when they aren’t working at the same time. They are still connecting, they still have their weekly strategy meeting, and they are going deep. There’s a huge transfer of knowledge and skills.
Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.Harvard Business Review
I think that’s something that’s beneficial for women in particular because I think, as women, we can be very hard on ourselves when it comes to what we think we’re capable of.
The thing that I’m really excited about with this, is the opportunity for companies to bring in diverse talent.
By splitting a job that’s traditionally done by one person, you’re bringing in talent that would otherwise not apply. These individuals are searching out meaningful work, but in what world would they apply for full-time roles, if they’re looking for part-time hours?
What do you think the post-pandemic workplace looks like?
I’d like to see shared roles and all the benefits that come with that, become the new normal. It’s the shift that we need to see.
The concept of sole ownership; owning a home, having your own car, is changing particularly for the generations coming through.
They are used to sharing cars now, they are used to sharing handbags, they are used to sharing apartments and holiday homes, and there are so many other things that people are sharing today (probably, short of a spoon) – so why not jobs?
We hoped this [pandemic] was maybe a sprint, and it’s really become a marathon. For companies, that requires thinking much more broadly about their responsibility for the whole human and the whole health of their employees, not just to ensure productivity but to ensure sanity for people in this extraordinary moment.Alexis Krivkovich – McKinsey, March 2021
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