Mixed doubles: How successful job-sharing between men and women works

Whether in Bremen, Rastatt or Sindelfingen, Alexandra Bauer and Philipp Hartmann conduct a joint ritual every morning as they go to work. They talk to one another on the phone, review the previous day’s events, and tell one another what will be on the agenda today.

They ask each other with whom they should have a talk, discuss where things are going well and where not, and determine where decisions need to be made. However, Alexandra and Philipp don’t have a long-distance relationship, but instead jointly head a 50-member team at Daimler’s assembly planning unit. Tandem pairs in which both employees work part-time are now becoming increasingly frequent at Daimler. In 2018, there were 126 of these job shares.

However, most of them were traditional combination, consisting of two women. “Mixed doubles” are rarer, with only one in six tandem pairs consisting of a man and a woman. Job sharing between two men is even more uncommon, although it does exist.

Another unusual feature of the pairing of Alexandra and Philipp is that the two of them share a job in manufacturing, because such part-time working models at Daimler generally involve traditional office jobs. Says Alexandra: “On average, we spend 80% of our time in the conference room, with the remaining 20% being devoted to manufacturing — either in the prototype plant or going from workshop to workshop.” Broadly speaking, their main task is to calculate how many workers are needed for the production of the planned vehicles. They also assess how much time will be needed and what ergonomic conditions are required for a certain work step.

This is a completely new task for Alexandra, who switched from human resources to assembly planning a year ago.

As a woman, it was initially challenging for me to come to a semitechnical unit as a newbie. I wasn’t fully accepted everywhere right away. However, people begin to automatically accept you if you can show that you have the requisite technical skills and an understanding of the matter

Decision for part-time work in a tandem – Decision for the family

As is the case with many other people, Alexandra and Philipp made the decision to work part-time in a tandem job for family reasons. Says Philipp: “I have three children and I wanted to better balance the needs of my career and of my family, even though I hold a management position as a department head. However, I still wanted to be successful and appreciated in my job, so I suggested the tandem solution to my boss.”

But, as the aforementioned statistic shows, a part-time job is still “women’s work” in most cases. That’s no problem for Philipp.

Many people were very surprised when they heard about my idea, but I also got a lot of positive feedback. Many people also thought it was very courageous of me to suddenly share the position that I managed on my own for years. However, Alexandra made things easy for me. She is very clear in what she says and also has a lot of empathy for our employees. I think that she has not only benefited our department from a professional point of view, but also added an important new twist to our leadership capabilities

Job-sharing means sharing tasks and responsibilities

Alexandra, in turn, appreciates that her tandem partner had great confidence in her from the very start. “We wanted the maximum overlap between our tasks so that both of us would be familiarized with all areas as well as possible,” she says.

For Philipp, this meant that he suddenly had to share his tasks and responsibilities with someone else. “He made this place available for me from the very start,” says Alexandra. “He took all of my questions and suggestions seriously, no matter what they were. I also think that our unit benefits from the fact that it is lead by a mixed tandem pair. Although it may sound clichéd, Philipp, as a man, is very numbers-oriented and analytical, while I’m more focused on issues and people. Together, these two perspectives are an optimal mixture.”

Not all of the coworkers were convinced at first that the new tandem model would work. Says Philipp: “Many of my colleagues knew Alexandra from the work she did. However, some of them were uncertain how we would distribute the topics and whether they would have to discuss everything twice in the future. We listened to these concerns at a team event that was held a few weeks after the start of the job sharing arrangement. We then worked together to create a model that everyone thought could work very well — and which actually does.”

Philipp’s supervisor was always very open-minded about the part-time job-sharing model and he supported Philipp’s decision from the very start even though it meant that his experienced and long-serving employee is now only available for 30 hours per week. In exchange, he got Alexandra, who, after working at Daimler for 15 years in various positions at human resources, finance, and IT, not only contributed a huge network and lots of experience from a variety of units, but also put a feminine perspective on things or sometime just a new one.

Mutual trust is a precondition for job-sharing

According to Alexandra, a tandem arrangement can only be successful if the partners have full confidence in one another. Moreover, their topics should overlap as much as possible.

In some tandems, the partners simply split the topics between them,” she says. “That wouldn’t work with us. The appealing thing about the tandem model for me is clearly that we can always look at topics from two viewpoints. In my other jobs I also regularly discussed certain issues with my colleagues, of course. However, Philipp and I communicate far more often because we are jointly responsible for the various topics.

Although Alexandra and Philipp “only” work 30 hours per week each, they come together during part of their overlapping work time to discuss the issues they face. They confer about the other topics during their morning phone calls on the way to work.

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She is the editor-in-chief of the Daimler blog and, together with Sascha Pallenberg, editorially responsible for the Daimler podcast Headlights.