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May 06, 2020
How to lead when you work part-time
By: Kellie Simpson

Thirteen years ago, after the birth of her son, Kellie Simpson worked part-time as a Senior Client Account Executive for several years. A trail blazer of part-time and flex work, Kellie shares her approach to staying on the leadership track while being a parent.

When I first got to a senior role at Accenture, I never really expected it to last, because I was planning to start a family. In those days, female leaders with children were few and far between. So I had no role models. I just assumed that, at some point, it would all get too hard. But then, after going through IVF and having our son I decided to try and stay on my leadership path. Part of my motivation was that, one day, I could be a role model for the generations of parents coming through the business.

After taking a year off after my son was born, I told my boss I wanted to come back into my former role – part time. My plan was to do 80% of the role across three days. It had never been done before, but I thought it made good business sense.

Meet my husband Chris and son Max

Meet my husband Chris and son Max

In my first few weeks back from maternity leave, one of my clients expressed his concerns about my ability to manage an acquisition. He said: “This is an intense project. I’m worried whether you’ll be able to cope part-time and with a baby at home.” I was really straight with him: “This is my first child, so I don’t know if I can do it, but I’m going to give it a go. If I think it’s not working, I’ll be honest with you and we’ll figure it out.” He was fabulous and accepting – as was Accenture. And I ended up working with that client for years.

A year or so later, while I was still working part-time, I was offered a new role leading our SAP business. I said I’d love to do it, but our CEO was concerned I couldn’t do the role part-time. I said: “Jack, I hear you. I’d like to give it a try. If part-time doesn’t work out, we’ll have another conversation.”

The rest is history. I went on to grow the SAP practice and lead the delivery of large-scale, multi-year transformation programs – all while working part-time.

With my colleagues at Accenture

With my colleagues at Accenture

My advice for making senior part-time roles work for you – and your company

It takes a village to make these roles work: you have to get your organisation, your team and your customers on board. That means:

  • Advocating for yourself – Think it through and be absolutely clear about what you need and how you see the role working. Don’t worry that there isn’t a precedent. If anyone says: “No one’s ever done that,” just tell them: “I’ll be the first then.” If things aren’t going well, speak up before you fall in a heap. If it’s not working for you and you say nothing, you’ll become resentful and end up leaving. Take responsibility for fixing the issues and be patient while you work out a different approach. You have to be realistic about what can be done and in what timeframe.
  • Stepping into the unknown – You have to be comfortable to give a new working structure a go without knowing whether it will be successful. Just try it out and be prepared to deal with the consequences if it doesn’t work.
  • Building reliability in your support network – I was lucky enough to have a supportive partner who completely shared the load at home. I also created a support network with a lot of reliability, including family, paid childcare centres and occasional nannies, so I was prepared for any emergency. The only thing you can guarantee with kids is that the best laid care plans will fall over. Make sure you have a safety net!
  • Preparing your team – As I built my teams, I was very clear with everyone about what I could and couldn’t do, and when I was and wasn’t available. I tried to make myself a little bit redundant in each team so they didn’t need me every day. Looking back, I realise that was a great move, helping them grow and giving me headspace to think strategically.
  • Being transparent with clients – Don’t hide anything. Bring your whole self to work, baby sick stains and all. You have to tell your clients about your part-time limitations and be honest about what’s going on for you. I actually introduced some of my clients to my baby. It brought my situation to life for them.
  • Looking after yourself – It took me a while to get my head around this one, but it’s one of the most important things you can do. In the baby years especially, it’s easy to do nothing except work and look after your kids. This is not just about making sure you get enough sleep. Take some time to do something for yourself, perhaps: exercise, spend time with your friends, or get a massage. And do it regularly - not just on your birthday!

Let’s be clear – this advice is not just for women. I strongly encourage dads to take as much parental leave as they can and to use flex or part-time work to share the childcare.

It’s fantastic to know that the number of men accessing parental leave at Accenture has increased by 123% since 2018 from 122 to 272 this year.

Parental leave is a fabulous experience and time you’ll never get back. You’ll return to the business with a different perspective and a much better appreciation of what many parents in your organisation are going through. I’m proud of the fact that Accenture offers 18 weeks of paid parental leave and many men in our business are taking it up. In fact, more men at Accenture Australia have thus far accessed parental leave than women in 2020. The times are changing, as the number of men taking parental leave at manager level and above has also increased, from 86 in 2018 to 165 thus far in 2020.

I think it will yield great results for society if all parents are supported to share the work of nurturing and sustaining our families.

My 13 year old son, Max

My 13 year old son, Max

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