Photography by Julian Dodd
When Patrick Wintour announced in October 2015 that he was standing down as The Guardian’s political editor, Heather Stewart’s ears pricked up. It’s one of the meatiest roles in British journalism. Stewart was The Observer’s economics editor and had all the right credentials for the political editorship of The Guardian but, as a mum of two small children, she felt she ‘couldn’t do it alone’. ‘You’re not just servicing a daily newspaper, you’re servicing a website that’s 24/7 too. That’s exciting because you can break news at any time of the day or night – but it’s also incredibly demanding,’ says Stewart. ‘Throw two kids into the mix and it’s nigh on impossible.’
So Stewart (left in the picture) called her former colleague Anushka Asthana and suggested they apply for the role together as a job-share. Asthana had started her career in journalism as a junior reporter at The Observer – where she first met Stewart – and had gone on to become chief political correspondent at The Times, and then politics correspondent at Sky News. ‘I was happy at Sky News; I also had two young children and the shift work suited me. Becoming a political editor just wasn’t really on my radar; the hours are completely unsuitable for anyone who ever wants to put their kids to bed,’ she says. ‘But as a job-share, suddenly the role became possible.’
The pair submitted a joint application – and got the job. Stewart and Asthana aren’t the first job-sharers at The Guardian (Emily Wilson and Clare Margetson shared the network and G2 editorships) but they are the most high profile. ‘Our boss Katharine Viner [the first female editor-in-chief at The Guardian] was extremely supportive and flexible,’ says Stewart. ‘She basically said to us, "You set it up; you make it work." So we did.’
Stewart and Asthana drew up a schedule. They each work four days a week; Stewart has alternate Mondays and Fridays off, Asthana has alternate Thursdays and Fridays off. They also chop and change who’s in charge throughout the week. ‘It’s one job – not two part-time roles,’ says Asthana.
‘It was important to us that the deputy editor didn’t feel squeezed out; they’re the number two, not the number three. So whoever’s in charge sits next to the deputy, and the other person hot-desks or is out interviewing.’
The duo are in constant communication. ‘Anushka is usually the first person I text in the morning and the last person I text at night,’ says Stewart. ‘‘We work very differently to traditional journalists – we share all our contacts and conversations and many of our stories have joint bylines. We’re a united front and we’re never competitive with each other. There are no sharp elbows in this relationship.’
‘Job-sharing gives you solidarity,’ adds Asthana. ‘You’re always looking out for each other and, on the days when you’re worrying about something or slagging yourself off, the other person is there to pick you up.’
Stewart and Asthana hope to prove that you don’t have to sacrifice seniority at work just because you have caring commitments. ‘All organisations need to be thinking about job-shares and ways to make big jobs more accessible,’ says Asthana. ‘This isn’t just for the working mums. No one wants to spend every waking hour at work.’
Next in our series, find out how two civil servants share a senior role at the new Department for International Trade.