Interview: Alison Garnham, one of two chief executives at the Daycare Trust

She tells Tristan Donovan about her job share with Emma Knights

Three years ago this month, national childcare charity the Daycare Trust took a leap into the unknown when it appointed two chief executives on a job share.

Alison Garnham, who shares the chief executive post with Emma Knights, says it was an unusual and brave move. "It did meet with some derision when we announced it and, to a certain extent, we had to invent our own template because there was nothing around to act as a guide," she recalls.

Garnham and Knights work alone for two days each week and together on Wednesdays. Both are involved in all aspects of the charity's operations, although they each take lead responsibility for different projects.

It's an approach that Garnham says is working well for two reasons. "First, we know each other well," she says. "Second, we have agreed a set of ground rules to live by, such as not interfering in each other's decisions and sticking by the decisions of the other."

The approach has mainly remained unchanged since Garnham and Knights were appointed, with only one minor adjustment. "The one addition was to have a single 'to do' list that we share," she says.

Trust is at the heart of the arrangement, Garnham adds. "Emma and I knew each other before taking the job," she says. "Personally, I think it would be very tricky to do this if we didn't know each other well."

So far the two have not disagreed on any big decisions. "There might be a different emphasis at times, but you have to get over that and assume the best of each other," she says.

Making sure staff were behind the idea was important, says Garnham. "It's essential to have the cooperation and support of staff, and we were lucky to have that support.

"But it is also important that we keep listening out for concerns as they emerge."

The joint chief executive approach ties in with the Daycare Trust's advocacy for flexible working, and has also brought operational benefits to the charity, according to Garnham.

"We've got the energy of two people and there is less downtime in the week," she says. "There's the advantage that when one of us is not in the office, there is someone else who can make a decision. And we have two people's backgrounds and experience to call on.

"We have shown that it is possible to occupy a senior position in this way - which is all the more relevant given the current discussions about the gender pay gap, because most part-time work is low paid."


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