Portrait 02

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"Instead of two bosses the employees now have two contact persons.“
© eveleen007 - stock.adobe.com
© eveleen007 - stock.adobe.com

The portrayed female scientist and the portrayed male scientist lead a department of their research institute jointly. The institute has several locations. The two portrayed scientists work at a location that is rural without connection to an university town. The female scientist has a PhD and has been working for the institute for almost 10 years. She is married. The male scientist has a diploma and has been at the institute for almost 20 years. He is married and has two children in primary school age. His wife works part-time at the same institute.

Since when do you share the leadership position?

Male Scientist: We have been managing the department together for almost a year. For me, the management task was not new, because I already led a laboratory of the Institute with staff responsibility before.

Female Scientist: For me, the leadership function was new. I was a research associate before that.

How did it come about that the two of you share the leadership position?

Male Scientist: The entire institute is currently in a restructuring phase and the department management position should be filled. Our department has developed very well in the last few years and is with more than 30 colleagues one of the economically most powerful departments at this location of our institute. For this reason the idea arose to split the leadership of this large department. In addition, the requirements for the scientific character of our research organization increased. In order to continuously ensure the quality of the studies with industrial customers and to increase the scientific output the idea arose to split the management tasks according to the strengths of the two persons. I myself don´t come from a university context and I rather see my focus on industrial projects. My colleague is more likely to focus on the scientific part. This is a very nice basic structure which started off well. In practice, it’s still the case that both can work on each of these focuses.

Female Scientist: For me, it was quite surprising that I was planned as a department manager. When our head of the institute suggested the idea of the tandem to me, I feared that it might have been decided without my colleague’s knowledge. When he confirmed that this was a common idea of the two I saw it as a unique opportunity for me.

How do you organize the shared leadership in practice?

Female Scientist: We share many tasks according to our strengths. We have also divided the participation at in-house committees so that we do not appear as double peaks there.

Male Scientist: That was very important because some people were concerned that we would create an imbalance if, for example, we were both sitting on the steering committee of the department. Therefore, only one person takes part in such committees. Still, we are both equally well-informed and if one is absent, the other can represent him.

How did you determine who participates in which committee?

Female Scientist: Our head of institute has determined that. We coordinate before the meetings and then inform each other afterward. We also ensure that the interests of the respective other are represented.

How do you put this into practice in everyday life: Do you sit together in an office? Do you have fixed dates for exchange?

Female Scientist: We sit together in an office and talk directly to each other. There is no need to make appointments to exchange ideas.

Male Scientist: We have fixed dates when it comes to completing the management tasks. Therefore, we have regular meetings with the other lab managers from the department and the laboratory technicians to discuss the current study occurrence.

Are your employees assigned to one of you?

Female Scientist: Yes, they are.

Male Scientist: There is no other way to handle this for 30 people. However, there are lab managers that wanted to have their performance review with both of us.

What does the shared leadership mean for your employees?

Female Scientist: Especially for the lab managers, it was, of course, a transition, from one to two leaders. However, in the performance reviews we had, it was not regarded as negative. I rather think that instead of two bosses the employees now have two contact persons.

How did the leader colleagues react to the fact that there is now a dual leadership?

Female Scientist: As already mentioned, there was the concern that we could create an imbalance by the dual leadership. But that didn’t happen.

Male Scientist: Another concern was that it leads to a financial burden on the Institute because two departmental leaders are more expensive than one. But that was regulated accordingly.

How do your customers or project partners react?

Male Scientist: In the classical industrial studies that we are doing here, there is usually a very clear assignment, because you designate a study management. Nevertheless, we got used to the habit that the respective other one is involved in the email traffic, or if necessary, participates in conference calls. Due to this, we are both on the same information level and can represent each other. Depending on the study, it is actually expected that there is always someone available who can provide information as quickly as possible. It was a great relief for me that I did not have to call anymore every two days when I am on vacation.

Did you have role models for the shared leadership model?

Female Scientist: I don’t even know about many dual leadership examples – actually only from politics.

Are you a role model for others?

Male Scientist: That depends on the outcome of this interview (laughs). My colleague is often mentioned as an example when it comes to women in management positions. We are also a special research institute because women have a share of over 50 percent here.

Female Scientist: We have many biological-technical assistants or chemical-technical assistants – these are very often women. There are fewer women at the top, but I think in our department it is well-balanced, for example, at the lab management level.

Which framework conditions of your Institute contribute to the reconciliation of family and work?

Female Scientist: For me, this was definitely the possibility of working from home. My husband also works in science and has been employed in another part of Germany for years. The fact that I had one day a week as a Home office day, allowed me to better combine my private life with my work.

Male Scientist: For me, it is the flextime. That way, I can stay home for a day to care for the children when it is necessary. A few years ago, the core working time was completely abolished at our site which further increases the flexibility.

How satisfied are you with how the reconciliation of work and family life works for you?

Female Scientist: Currently, my standards are relatively low. I think, in general, we have good conditions.

Male Scientist: To reconcile enough time for the family with my profession is definitely a challenge. We have two schoolchildren. It might sound trivial, but to ensure that the children are at the bus stop on time every morning is occasionally combined with stress. When you come home in the evening, you have to calm down as quickly as possible and try to use the limited time you have with the children as good as possible. Sometimes that works out well, sometimes worse.

Who or what helps you the most to reconcile work and private life?

Male Scientist: With me, it is my and my wife’s initiative. In addition, we have a full-day care for the children, which makes it possible for both of us to pursue a career. We try to support each other in the best possible way so that everyone has the freedom to attend their own interests. It doesn’t work without balance.

Female Scientist: I think it is important that we can react flexibly. For us as double department management, the consultation, of course, is extremely important. That works well. If one of us has to leave spontaneously, the other can take over the tasks of the day. Important for me personally is that I can free my mind at home and sometimes do something completely different. Otherwise, the work performance will eventually drop.

What are the biggest challenges for you in day-to-day work?

Female Scientist: Regarding our laboratory, it is the current studies. There is always the pressure that everything has to run smoothly and that the high-quality requirements are met. New to me is the responsibility for the financing of the department. By this, an important task has been added. In addition, we have to come up with a new strategy for the further development of the department. Especially concerning the scientific character. There will be great challenges.

Male Scientist: For a few years now, the institute has an external consultant. He asked us specifically these questions: What is your strategy? Where do you see yourselves in five years? This was new for both of us, not simple, but very exciting. Of course, the requirements of our research organization are also relevant: on the one hand, one has to acquire a lot of money to finance the department and on the other hand, one has to develop future topics, if possible with a flagship character.

Isn’t it especially because of those things a big advantage that you are two?

Male Scientist: That is definitely a relief.

Female Scientist: Yes!

What advice would you give to other tandems?

Male Scientist: In advance, one has to check if it’s a match. The interpersonal factor is very important. You have to realize that you let go of some work and you have to admit that the other has strengths, which should then be used as well. If this works, the advantages of this kind of system are clearly prevalent.

Female Scientist: Good communication and trust among each other are very important as well as Transparency about responsibilities.

What could your organization change to facilitate shared leadership?

Female Scientist: A great help would be financial support for innovative employment concepts. In the beginning, our biggest acceptance problem was the fear of the high costs. The existence of an initial funding would be good. There is an example in our organization: We have a program to promote women in science. This is implemented much better because the corresponding financial means exist.

Male Scientist: Sustainability also starts with the staff. Reconciliation should also be lived, and not only presented outwardly. We may observe this especially when we want to recruit scientists. They have their demands on the reconciliation of work and private life. This can be met by trying more flexible options, especially in regions like ours that cannot be compared with metropolises. If we want to recruit scientists with a reputation, we often hear that we are too remote. They criticize the lack of infrastructure for scientific work in our region, e.g. the connection to a university. The cultural offer is less distinct than in the urban environment as well, and cheap housing is in fact not everything. I am sure that we would create better incentives with flexible working models.

Female Scientist: Usually it is a big change to move here. For me personally, it wasn’t because this is where I come from. For other scientific staff that is not from this region, it is a huge transition to adapt to country life. It’s different for the technical staff. We have a very good vocational college, which is training the technical staff. These are mostly people from the region who are very well-trained and would like to stay here.

What do you wish for the future?

Female Scientist: I wish to continuously have interesting research topics and a strategic development of the department. I also wish that the communication continues to stay as positive as before.

Male Scientist: I see it the same way. Our external consultant has raised the question whether the department should be divided at some point. I do not see that as an option at all. I think with this construct we can get very far.

Female Scientist: I think innovative concepts like shared leadership gain more and more importance in the future. This should be promoted because the reconciliation of private life and work, as well as a better work-life balance increase in significance.

Role Models

Individual paths for the reconciliation of private and working life

Pictures © eveleen007 - stock.adobe.com

  • "The both of us didn't want the traditional family model."

    The portrayed female scientist started 10 years ago with a PhD scholarship at her institute.
    Six years ago, she was hired as a research associate. She has been deputy head of department
    for four years. Her husband works in the same department. Together they have a daughter in
    toddler age and a son in infancy. Currently, both work 40 percent to look after their
    son at home.

    Read on.
    Portrait 09
  • "Special is that you have responsibility around the clock.
    At the office, you are responsible for the employees and at home,
    you are responsible for your child."

    The portrayed female scientist has been working at her institute for 10 years.
    After the birth of her daughter, the female scientist went for parental leave
    for one year. Shortly after she returned to her old position, the management of
    a department was offered to her. She has been in charge of the department for
    one and a half years now and her daughter is three years old.

    Read on.

    Portrait 08
  • "A tandem only works with good coordination and absolute confidence."

    The portrayed female scientist A and the portrayed female scientist B jointly
    lead a department. Both work part time. Female Scientist A has a doctorate.
    She has been working at her research institute for almost 15 years. She is
    married and has a daughter and a son in primary school age.
    Female Scientist B started working as a research assistant for the research
    institute alongside her studies 8 years ago. She has been a research
    associate for 2 years.

    Read on.

    Portrait 07
  • "Although we work so much,
    we spend a lot of beautiful time with our children."

    The portrayed female scientist has been working at her Institute for more than
    20 years. She began her career as a research assistant. For the last seven years,
    she has been working as a department manager and recently became a professor at
    university. In favor of this new task, she has given up the management of the
    department, but she continues to work for her research institute. She is married,
    has a daughter with Down syndrome and a son.

    Read on.

    Portrait 06
  • "Role models were very important to me."

    The portrayed female scientist has been working at her research institute for
    10 years. The portrayed scientist has a doctorate and is a group leader at a university.
    Both are married and have a 14 months old son, whom they look after together.

    Read on.

    Portrait 05
  • "There is nothing special about taking on a leadership function
    and working part-time."

    The portrayed female scientist has been working at her institute for almost 20 years.
    Almost a year after she took over the leadership of a group, her son was born.
    Her son is now four years old. The female scientist is still a group leader and works
    part-time to be able to spend time with her son.

    Read on.

    Portrait 04
  • "A Dad home alone with a baby is really recommendable."

    The portrayed scientists both work at the same research institute. They are married
    and have two daughters, which are in kindergarten and elementary school age.
    The scientist has been at the Institute for seven years. When she started working
    for the institute, her first daughter was five months old and because of that,
    her father cared for her until her first birthday. The male scientist has a PhD and
    has been working at the Institute for two years.

    Read on.
    Portrait 03
  • "Instead of two bosses the employees now have two contact persons."

    The portrayed female Scientist and the portrayed male scientist lead a department
    of their research Institute jointly. The Institute has several locations. The two
    portrayed scientists work at a location that is rural without connection to an
    university town. The female scientist has a PhD and has been working for the
    institute for almost 10 years. She is married. The male scientist has a diploma
    and has been at the Institute for almost 20 years. He is married and has two
    children in primary school age. His wife works part-time at the same institute.

    Read on.
    Portrait 02
  • "The most beautiful time is when the five of us are together.
    That beats everything."

    The portrayed scientists have been working in the same department of a research
    institute for 10 years. Both are research associates and deputy group leaders.
    Today married, they first met during their studies. Nineteen months ago, they became
    parents of triplets. They organize the everyday family life on an equal footing and
    split all tasks half-half among themselves.

    Read on.
    Portrait 01