Member Spotlight: Rebekah Bostan, Analytics Research Manager
I have three golden rules about flex: Be Clear and Consistent, Be Flexible and Be Loud
Rebekah Bostan has worked in the global energy field for almost two decades, of which the last 14 years have been part-time. In her current role she leads a multi-disciplinary analytics team focused on African oil and gas developments at IHS Markit.
Almost fourteen years ago, after the birth of my first child I realised that working full-time while bringing up my child was not an option for me. Looking back, it was quite a brave decision as I come from a family of working class women who were all full-timers. I was 26 years old, only a few years into my career, and everyone around me was childless and career focused. There were no real models of flexible working and I was genuinely taking a leap of faith. Fourteen years on I’ve realised that that brave 26-year-old made the best decision possible for her family. Colleagues who started their careers at a similar time to me are only a level above and I’m still very much engaged and committed to maintaining a part-time hours career.
In 2005 after the end of my first maternity leave I knew two things; I wanted to work part-time going forward and I wanted to move to a larger company with more options for progress. I did not and have never since viewed the idea of part-time and progress as mutually incompatible. So, at the time, I went on the hunt for my dream role. At first round interviews I never mentioned that I was looking to work part-time but once I was sure they were interested at the second or third interview stage I mentioned flex. A relatively dangerous and novel idea in the early 2000s, and many companies just couldn’t get their head around the idea of corporate roles being done flexibly, but one company took a chance. The reason they took a chance was obviously because I blew their socks off at interview… and the man interviewing me had a sister who worked part-time. He had seen it work and knew that part-time and career commitment were not mutually exclusive.
I’ve subsequently worked for incarnations of the same company for the past 13 years, through seven mergers, five different roles and eight different bosses. Over that period of time I’ve only ever had one manager in the same country as me and more often than not all my team was based abroad, usually in a completely different time zone. Not all of the teams I’ve been a part of have had previous experience of flex but never once have I felt pressure to increase my hours. In fact my change from three to four days after seven years was due to both my kids entering full-time education.
So how do I make part-time work in a corporate culture obsessed with the Ideal Worker model of working?
I have three golden rules about flex: Be Clear and Consistent, Be Flexible and Be Loud.
Be Clear and Consistent– I’m really specific with any team and any long-term clients I work with what my core working hours are. When I worked three days per week I had an out of office (OOO) on for the days I didn’t work with signposting to other colleagues on my non-working days. Currently I’m in everyday so don’t use an OOO but also don’t set expectations that I’ll look at things during my two non-working afternoons. As I now run a team I will generally make sure that I take half an hour at the end of my non-working afternoons to check for anything urgent, and also plan ahead for the next day.
Be Flexible – Flex is a two-way street if it is seen as part of a career progression journey rather than a dialling down of expectations. Just as I need flex in order to meet my life journey so my company also needs times when I can provide flexibility back. This could be changing my days around, but never at late notice, or working late in the evening after the kids are in bed. I tend to really think of my working pattern in three weekly increments. If during a three-week period I feel I had the right balance for me and my family then I’m progressing well. If for example I’m working late in the evening, every evening for more than a week, then I take a step back and really think about my values and career vision and try to rebalance my work-life relationship.
Be Loud – I’ve always taken chances and been proud of my choices, good or bad. Similarly, I don’t buy into the idea of silent senior flex. I’ve been told on quite a few occasions that with seniority comes flex but I really don’t believe part-time workers looking along the talent pipeline have the telepathic ability to know who is really working silent flex. Consequently, we find few real models of progressing our careers while continuing to work part-time, it’s pretty much a desert. That’s why I make sure I’m very vocal about my part-time status. Others behind me on the talent pipeline need to know that part-time is a real career option, and not just for the few years your children are young.
As the co-chair of my company’s Parents Network I openly advocate around flexible working, both contractual and informal. As part of this I have been trying to open up the conversations around flexible working. I really believe that all jobs can be undertake flexibly but not all roles are suitable for all types of flexibility. We need education from all sides to widen the roles available to flex while at the same time being realistic about the types of flexibility available. Working part-time does not have to be a tale of stalled progress. Working differently from those around you in the corporate world is still the exception to the rule and consequently it is harder, bumpier and definitely more squiggly, but it doesn’t mean you have to opt out of having a career.