Interview

Job share gives Audi Australia the best of Elle Ritson and Beth Holden

by Liz Marchant

Elle Ritson and Beth Holden, Senior executive, sponsorship and events, Audi Australia.

Age: Elle 34, Beth 34

Number of kids: Elle and Beth each have one daughter

Age of kids: Both kids are aged two

What’s most important to you in a role?

Elle – I would say flexibility and a role that lets me be a mother and have a career. That has definitely changed. I would never have said flexibility previously, it would have been pay and status.

Beth – I would say the same. And, I also want a role that lets me focus on my career and do what I’m passionate about while giving me the opportunity to have flexible hours and work from home. Balance is so important. I want to do what inspires and motivates me and still have the opportunity for career progression.

What are the benefits and challenges of job sharing?

Elle – One benefit is that I didn’t feel like I had to take a step back in my career. Beth was in this role originally and she had been with Audi for eight years. I worked for a publisher, went on maternity leave and was made redundant. Everything part-time felt so junior when I was looking for roles. Jobs in retail or as a receptionist, that’s all I could find. When this role came up, it was a brand I was interested in, matched my experience, and still had a great work life balance. That’s such a great benefit.

Working in sponsorship and events, it makes sense to job share. An event doesn’t not happen just because we’re off work! If we would be working individual part-time roles, it would be harder to manage.

Beth – As Elle said, I was already with the company working in that role, so I had the benefit of presenting my case to Audi and asking for the job share. Our manager was part-time and a mum, so she pushed for it too. I wanted to work three days and be able to maintain my role but come back to job sharing. The benefit is that when I leave, I know Elle is there to manage the workload and priorities. That’s a disadvantage if you work part-time because you can’t switch off. If no one else is there, you don’t want to feel like you’re letting the wider team down. Job sharing offers that advantage of knowing you’re not letting anyone else down.

Both Elle and Beth work three days and overlap Wednesday.

Elle – Because Audi is a small company in Australia, it feels as though people think we both work full-time. Internally, people see us as individuals which is great but we have an increased workload because they see us as two separate people. They will give us enough work for two people but forget we’re doing one role!

What is involved in doing your job day-to-day?

We manage sponsorships from a national perspective, such as cinema or skiing sponsorships. We also manage customer events, and new product launches, for example a new car. We organise launches across Australia and work on the various events. We also manage the Audi Ambassador program with more than 10 ambassadors.

We organise the Audi experiences for customers, exclusive events and offers. It’s a very varied role.

We are quite often in the office and do some travel domestically and internationally.

Elle – As a return-to-work mother with my husband working as well, it can be difficult because we both sometimes have to travel. But we tend to coordinate, and my husband works from home so he can help with day-care pick-up and drop-off.

Beth – It comes down to planning. We try to travel on a Wednesday which works for the company because someone is in the office and someone is travelling. It is hard when you’re travelling and the other person isn’t there. When they are, they can respond to emails or attend meetings. I’m also really lucky; my husband is a builder who finishes at 3.30 so he is available in the afternoons to pick up our daughter. It’s important to find a day-care that is accommodating. Planning and scheduling is key, along with making sure you’ve got help when you need it.

Elle – We have supportive partners and family. Beth went to Austria at the beginning of the year and during that time my mum cared for my daughter one day so I could work an extra day. We’ve done that for almost a year now; we’ve had spells where we’ve both worked an extra day. We sometimes have to cover the increased workload. This brings the company extra value because you couldn’t do that if there was just one person.

Did you have any personal concerns or worries in relation to family or out-of-work commitments when you started combining working and parenting?

Elle – I live about an hour south of Sydney. When first getting into the role I worried about how this was going to work; my husband works from home and travels a lot internationally. This means when he’s away day-care pick-up and drop-off need to be organised. Being away from your child is hard and takes time to get used to. We moved to my mum’s suburb and have an amazing support network. I was worried but so glad I’m working and everything worked out fine.

Beth – My worry was having to come back full-time and not knowing that job sharing was an option. Job sharing is great because we work three days so it’s a beautiful balance to be there for your child and also working; it’s so good for me personally as well. Initially I was concerned about working four days, because I don’t have any family in Sydney. My daughter would have been in day-care more than I wanted her to be initially. The job share has overcome that and it’s working really well.

How do you currently manage your work and family commitments?

Elle – The great thing about job sharing is that we know when we’re not there, the other person is around. It means that I am really just spending time with my daughter because I don’t have to be across email or on the phone. When I’m at work I feel like my head is in the right place and I can give it my all.

Beth – We’ve become really good at planning and working efficiently. You don’t want to let your job share partner down, so you really have to be even more efficient than you used to be. The amount you can get done is pretty impressive. We have reprioritised a lot more, become more refined and agile in our processes and what we do. That’s something that we’ve both changed since coming back from mat leave. So, we’re really in a much better position.

Also, it’s important to set boundaries and be upfront about flexibility. If everyone understands that, it’s better. Travelling on days you don’t work is hard, so we plan meetings and events on Wednesdays.

We get great support from the rest of the team as well.

Elle – The marcoms team really understands and respects us. For example, I leave at 4pm on the days I work and they don’t schedule meetings after that.

What are your family commitments?

Beth – I tend not to do anything specific. Other friends go swimming for example, but I like not having things we have to be committed to. My daughter is still a bit young to be doing lots of different activities. We just spend time together and are a bit more spontaneous that way

Elle – I did some activities while on maternity leave but that was more for me than my daughter. It was about filling in time. Now half the week is filled with work, so we prefer to play it by ear on the days I’m not working.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced finding a balance between work and parenting commitments?

Elle – It hasn’t been a huge challenge, honestly, the job share makes everything much easier

Beth – I’m pretty lucky. I don’t have many issues, besides the regular challenges of parenting. These things help you become more patient and go with the flow. Having support is really important. Elle and I get along really well which is very lucky. We have additional support with anything that is parenting related, beyond just work support.

I don’t know how it would work if we weren’t both parents; the other person would have to be really understanding. I didn’t understand it myself before I had children. It’s a very different lifestyle and it works better knowing you’re both in the same position. We understand each other.

Did you take maternity leave with your children? How long?

Elle – I took 12 months, then got made redundant at the 12-month mark so I took another three months before starting with Audi.

Beth – I took 12 months.

What advice would you give to someone returning to their career after having kids?

Elle – Look for a job-sharing arrangement. When you’re on maternity leave it seems daunting. When I got made redundant, I loved being a mother but that felt like it had put a stop to my career. You have to stay positive, use all your connections, and be upfront about what you want. If you know full-time isn’t possible, be upfront. Job sharing wasn’t on offer until Beth suggested it. Some recruiters now specialise in recruiting for women part-time so talk to them.

Beth – I agree. It’s hard because women are the worst at promoting themselves. Just go back to your employer and remind them of how much experience they would lose if you left. There are lots of stats that prove job sharing roles work well. Companies get more out of it because two people with different strengths and abilities can bring more to the role. Of course, you need a flexible employer. This is the first job share Audi Australia has ever done. It was really daunting. It feels quite different to come back when things have changed a lot and it’s also a scary prospect to drop your child off with someone you don’t know. You hope for a good support network. You have to be upfront with your employer and know what you want to get out of it.

When suggesting the job share, my manager worked four days and I knew I wanted to come back part-time too. I also knew it would be hard having two people work part-time. I had heard about the agency called Puffling. The team matches jobs easily to your skills. We tried it with a 12-month contract in case it didn’t work or I wanted to come back full-time and it’s worked really well. The feedback from Audi has been really positive and we’re both happy. I was firm that I wanted to come back part-time. I hoped that by putting forward this solution it would work and it did. I stood my ground; it’s not easy to find something part-time that is flexible or senior enough to suit your abilities. I was lucky the company went for it.

Elle – Beth is incredible so Audi didn’t want to lose her.

How common is your job-share arrangement at Audi?

There aren’t any others yet but we haven’t had any other mums of late. Our marcoms manager came back full-time because that suited her but she works shorter days. No one else is really in the same position.

Another girl in the marcoms team has just gone on maternity leave so it will be interesting to see what happens when she comes back.

The HR team says they’re happy with how the job share arrangement is going.

Did that put pressure on you?

Elle – I felt a responsibility to Beth to make it work. And to working mums full stop. People always want to know how it works and I’m the biggest advocate for it. The number one thing I’m asked is do we get along or is it competitive? I can happily say that we definitely get along and you can’t be competitive. You have to act as one; a win for one is a win for both. We do everything together. The better we do our role reflects well on both of us.

Do you find time for yourselves? If so, what do you use it for?

Beth – I spend all time around my child. She still has daytime naps which is amazing so you get some time to yourself. It takes the pressure off those day-to-day things you do as the mum. You clean the house, organise the dinners etc. Instead of stressing about that on the weekends, you can just hang out together and not worry so much about it on the weekend. It means better family time, and more quality time on the weekend when your partner’s not working. We don’t have to get the shopping done, because I can do that during the week.

Elle – I go to a gym where they have a great creche. I go for an hour to the gym on my day off. My daughter loves it; it does help that she is in love with the creche lady.

If you could do anything differently in relation to developing your career over the years, what would it be (if anything)?

Beth – Having more confidence. After having a baby I’ve become more confident to set my own agenda rather than let others set it for me. There are more important things in life. You know you’re doing a good job so that gives you more confidence, for example, suggesting the job share. That would be my only change; pushing for things you know you can do, whether it’s seeking a promotion or something else. Maybe part of that is that I’m getting older so I’ve had more experience as well.

Elle – Men apply for jobs even if they’re not confident they can do the role. But women think that they might not be able to do a certain job. I would back myself from a younger age and if you get the job great, go with it.

Beth – I would also seek a mentor earlier. It’s important to have people, other mums around you that you can take advice from. For example, from my mother’s group, having people in similar situations you get support from them knowing that you can do both and can work in your favour.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Beth – With the job share, because I’ve known my manager for so many years, she knows my personality and appointing Elle to the role has been great. We really get along well, we’re not competitive, and we have a similar way of working, we back the other person. Finding the right person to job share with is pretty important. You spend so much time together and rely on each other. Make sure you meet them before you job share to make sure the fit will work.

Elle – I agree. Respecting your job share partner and getting along with them can make or break the partnership. You’ll never work as closely with someone as in a job share. All ego must be put aside. Before a baby, it’s often all about me, me, me, and climbing the corporate ladder. When you job share, you have the same goals, you have to have same work ethic. When I work Wednesday to Friday, I don’t want to leave Beth with a huge workload, so I work harder and faster. I’m very respectful and mindful of not leaving the other person in the lurch. I can’t have an off day. If I do that, she needs to pick it up.

I also think a job share is a great win for a company too. With a job share a company gets two brains with two sets of experience. In our situation Beth knows Audi inside out as she has worked here for more than eight years. While I didn’t know Audi, I had experience with publishers and competitive brands. Every Monday and Wednesday when Beth and I start our week, we are refreshed, motivated and ready for the role. We don’t suffer from a five-day-a-week burn-out and we are really excited and grateful to be here.