The Labour Party should be leading the way in promoting best practise in labour conditions. But in terms of promoting job-sharing, Labour is still years behind. With local elections in many areas coming up, and the reallocation of Labour group and local council positions, now is a good time to make the case for job-sharing.
Job-sharing unlocks potential, promotes equality of opportunity, produces more representative Labour teams and more effective Labour councils. Fleur Anderson and I have been joint deputy leaders of Wandsworth Labour group for two years, enabling us to take on a role that we weren’t able to commit the time to doing alone as we are both working mothers – with a total of seven children between us.
We weren’t the first job-share in Wandsworth Labour – the year before us the position was shared by a male and female councillor, both parents to young children, for whom being able to job-share meant that they could not only bring their different expert areas to the same role but they could also progress their own careers. One of those job-share deputies went on to become our local MP and the other is now leader of our Labour group.
Our experience of being deputy leaders has been overwhelmingly positive. We support and encourage each other, we put in more hours than a single deputy could, we model a team-work ethic and we make sure that between us important meetings are never missed.
Despite these advantages, Wandsworth Council hasn’t really embraced our job-share model. It has insisted that one of us is a ‘statutory’ deputy leader – which is unnecessarily divisive. Even within our Labour group, one or the other of us is often seen as the ‘real’ deputy and we’re not both included in emails or meetings. Rules about elections for job-sharers and a welcoming statement have not been written into our group’s standing orders as they should be. We’ve yet to have a job-share cabinet role.
Other Labour groups job-share better. According to Lib Peck, leader of Lambeth Council: “Designing workplaces that enable both women – and men – to progress their careers whilst working flexibly has been proven to be a major enabler for driving both gender equality and productivity”. In Lambeth, two men job-share the role of cabinet member for healthier and stronger communities.
One of them, Cllr Mohamed Seedat, says: “Job-sharing with a more experienced Cabinet member has meant that I have benefited from a mentoring role and from the experience and contacts built up by my fellow joint cabinet member over many years”. He adds: “I would never have put my name forward if the role hadn’t have been available as a job-share.”
Mo believes that unless job-shares become more widely accepted, senior roles within Labour groups and Labour councils will continue to be the preserve of the retired or the well-off. “Taking full-time senior roles in Labour groups just isn’t an option for people in the middle of their careers, with families, which locks out the younger cohort and people with caring responsibilities”.
There are other councils who have seen the job-share light, for instance Swansea where the role of cabinet member for the future generation is job-shared. Swansea’s leader, Cllr Stewart, announced last year that his would be the first council in Wales to embrace job-sharing for cabinet members. “We’re doing everything we can to modernise the council for staff and it’s important that we do the same for councillors,” he said. In Greenwich two cabinet roles are currently job-shared.
Offering job-shares is a feminist issue. Importantly, if the Labour Party can succeed in creating a more flexible workforce culture, we will not just open up opportunities for women, we will also improve career progress for all those with caring responsibilities, the low-paid, the young, minority groups and people with disabilities.
There are many advantages, yet our experience is that we have been accepted and encouraged in our joint role by women far more than by men. We think this is due to a lack of experience of job-sharing, but also it’s an issue of power. Job-sharing threatens to break up the old boys’ club and let more women and minority groups in, and this is seen as a threat by some.
That’s even more reason for Labour groups to add the fight for job-sharing to our actions for equality. We should be leading by example, challenging outdated and regressive attitudes.
Promoting flexible working within a Labour group creates a more inclusive and progressive working environment for the group, allowing Labour-run councils to take an important leading role in modelling modern working practices across boroughs.
If you want to address diversity and inclusion needs, unblock career progression, tackle labour market inequalities and see a better Labour team, be one of the active promoters of job-sharing – put it in standing orders unambiguously and encourage opportunities in wards, CLPs, Labour groups and cabinets. You’ll be on the side of progress, a better Labour movement and better outcomes for the people we serve.
Cllr Fleur Anderson and Cllr Candida Jones are joint deputy leaders of Wandsworth Labour group.
This article first appeared in Labourlist.