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Job-Sharing Provides Unique Hiring Option for Companies - 2004-07-07

In the American workplace, it used to be that if you had an important job, too big to do yourself and too demanding for a part-timer, you had little choice but to hire a full-time employee. But, some companies have found another formula: create one job, shared by two people.

It's an idea that's working splendidly at Zoomerang, a multi-million-dollar high-tech corporation in California's Silicon Valley. NBC's Today Show reports the software company has hired two people for the price of one. And not on the assembly line, but near the top of the organizational chart. Dana Meade and Paula Rivers share the job of vice president and general manager.

"We're both responsible for the bottom line of the Zoomering business," said Ms. Rivers. "So whether it's product management or marketing or finance, or what have you, we try to make sure we're in sync with what's going on."

Ms. Rivers and Ms. Meade split the work week, each spending two-and-a-half days at the office. They divide one executive salary down the middle. But they get some employee benefits, like health insurance, in full.

The women proposed the job-share idea to Zoomerang's top management after each had worked many years in the software field and had obtained master's of business administration degrees. They say they could have handled the vice president job fulltime. But each has a child at home, and rather than choose between the fast track and the mommy track, they proposed doing both.

"I knew I wanted to keep my hand in, keep my career moving forward somewhat," explained Ms. Rivers. "But I also wanted to be able to spend time with my daughter. I wanted to spend at least a couple days a week at home with her and just see her grow up and see her change."

A recent study by the research group Catalyst says some women, much more often than men, gladly accept smaller paychecks in return for fewer hours at work and more time with the family. And Ellen Galinsky, the president of the Families and Work Institute, a workplace research center, says the Mead-Rivers alliance is ideal. It allows the women to enjoy quality time at home without losing their place on the corporate ladder.

"The closer you get to the top, as the Catalyst study shows, the more restrictive an 'old boys' network' it is," she said.

Ms. Galinsky says women who have the ability to break through what's called the glass ceiling often give up trying to reach the upper corporate echelon because they don't want to spend the prime of their lives just, as the saying goes, working for the man.

"We've managed to make the pipeline a little better," explained Ms. Galinsky. "It's just that final reach to the top that we haven't made more conducive to having a life outside of work."

Dana Meade says she marched into the office of Zoomerang chief executive officer John Finley and made the bold suggestion that she and Ms. Rivers share the vice presidency.

"His reaction was, uh, 'no,' at first," she recalled.

"I just wasn't sure how well it would work for the business, for their subordinates," said Mr. Finley. "Some people on the senior leadership team of the company had some concerns about what would go on day to day."

What went on, it turned out, was super productivity, with a brighter attitude, by two happy women. And that made for one satisfied boss.

"If you have great people, don't let 'em get away from you," said Mr. Finley.

Rivers says that even when she and Dana Meade are not working, they work, since they're always checking in by cell phone.

"I talk to Dana every day," said Ms. Rivers. "She talks to me every day. There really isn't an off-day. It's just whether or not we're physically here."

You get the same message from Ms. Meade.

"Paula and I talk every day, regardless," she said. "She can understand if my daughter's screaming in the background and we need to take a break."

Apparently everyone wins from the job-sharing arrangement. Ms. Meade and Ms. Rivers keep their hands in the work they love, their kids get extra attention, and the company reaps the benefits. Since the two women became half-time vice presidents, Zoomerang has added customers in more than two hundred countries, and its revenue has doubled.