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Jenny Birch from PwC talks about her promotion to Audit director on a part-time contract.
Jenny Birch was appointed an Audit director at PwC on 1st January this year. What is remarkable is that Jenny has done it on a flexible annualised three-day-a-week contract.
Jenny, who has been working part time since 2011 in a client-facing role dealing with big contracts, says when she was coming up through the ranks as a junior staff member she saw very few people in the sector using flexibility, and she now hopes she can inspire others to feel empowered to work on flexible contracts. “I hope I am proof that if there is a relationship of trust and compromise on both sides you can do this,” she says. “I am definitely seeing changes happening in the audit industry, but there still aren’t huge numbers of part-time people in senior roles.”
Jenny has two daughters, aged seven and nine. She says working part time in audit for large firms has not always been easy, but she has always been able to manage her portfolio flexibly. The early part of the year is very busy for auditors, so she tends to mostly work full time during this period, and then has most of the summer holidays off, only checking emails from time to time. When working she usually keeps Tuesdays free and finishes in time for her children’s swimming lessons at 4.30 on Mondays. She laughs that most of her clients know when her kids have swimming because she is very open about working part time.
If she has to take time out in the day for school events, she will catch up when her children are in bed. “It’s entirely up to me and it’s always been a matter of trust,” she says. “Providing I run my portfolio correctly I can flex around my children.” She adds that there are, of course, the inevitable clashes and that she does do the occasional late nights, but says that she knows she will get the time back. “It’s all about give and take,” she states.
She adds that things have changed over time as her children have grown older, for instance, now her work pattern is shaped around the school holidays. When her daughters were younger Jenny was able to work mainly from home.
Two years ago with the girls both settled in school she decided she wanted to focus more on progressing her career. “My focus before was on my home life, but now the girls are older they need me less and I can give more to work,” she says. PwC, which won this year’s workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Award for Flexible Working, has been giving her opportunities and roles that will help her get promoted. There has been no pressure on her to seek progression, she adds. It was down to her and when she felt ready.
Jenny has been at PwC since 2001 and says that her clients have been really positive about her work pattern. “Many of them have children and it’s a good topic of conversation. I’m quite open about it and it’s good for them to see it as a possibility for them,” she says. She puts that she works three days a week in her email signature, and says that if she is sending emails out of hours she does not expect others to do the same.
During Covid-19 she has flexed her hours across the week. Her husband, who also works at PwC in a different department, helped share the homeschooling in the first lockdown, but was very busy in the second. Jenny hopes that seeing children on video calls – her youngest daughter has sometimes sat on her lap through calls – has been an eye opener for many and that it will move the flexible working agenda forward even more.
“Ten years ago there were very few part-time people in senior roles. Accountancy firms like PwC have made big strides and the result is that they have been able to retain the experience people like I have,” says Jenny. “What’s more, my daughters have been able to see both their parents continuing to progress their careers, while also being around for them.”
*This case study appears in the workingmums.co.uk’s Best Practice Report 2021. You can download it for free. More information here.