The global HR and child safeguarding director at Save the Children International explains how to maintain the confidence to make part-time working a success

As a busy HR professional, mother and author, Save the Children International's global HR and child safeguarding director Claire Fox is an understandable advocate of work-life symbiosis. But as we all know making this work in practice is not easy. So People Management caught up with her to hear how she makes a part-time role work in a global organisation as well as keeping those nagging voices of doubt at bay.

You spent 12 years at Unilever – why the switch to the charity sector?
Unilever is an amazing company and I learned so much from my time there, I’d happily go back in the future. But it got to the point where I wanted to do something different, try somewhere new and have other types of experience. I wasn’t really looking for a global role because I have two young children and didn't want to travel too much, but when the job came up at Save the Children International, I thought this was the ideal job for me. For a long time I’ve wanted to do something that directly contributed to positive change in the world and I genuinely think I can achieve that here.

How do you juggle part-time work in a global organisation?
This job was advertised as full-time but when it got to offer stage, I discussed whether I could trial a four-day working week, with one day usually working from home, which I was doing at Unilever. It’s funny, when I tell people I have to travel for work they always ask me who’s going to look after the children – my partner of course. But our parents also play a huge part in our childcare, which is great for both parties. I have Mondays off, my partner has Fridays off and Tuesday are grandparents’ day. Combine this with nursery and school and it works pretty well. But of course we have to have contingency plans for when something offsets that balance.

How is agile working promoted at Save the Children International?
We have lots of different examples of ways of working at Save the Children. It is a big global organisation with 17,000 people across more than 100 countries, so as you can imagine, every country and context is different and local organisations have their own policies depending on what works for them. Here in the centre, we are supportive of flexi and agile working yet we have pockets where we do it and where we don’t. People travel a lot so there is a real culture of working from other places anyway. Skype communication, and using technology to communicate, is part of the way we’re already working. I think we are on a journey to making that more consistent and widespread across the organisation.

You’ve just published your first book explaining your model of achieving work-life symbiosis. Is this just another fad?
I spent years looking around to see colleagues work for a little bit longer than me, and I asked myself: ‘One day, am I going to be left behind because of that?’ But I have made the choice that I don’t want to work in the evenings, I want to get home, see my family, go to the gym. The book is basically how I have managed to do that ever since my first job. It’s not just based on academic theory. It’s by a woman, in a senior job, working part-time, with two kids. It’s my stories and my experience, so I’ve illustrated it with the personal choices I have made, but I think it is equally applicable to everyone.

It sounds like you need to be pretty confident to be able to stick to your guns but there’s a lot of research to suggest that women are seriously lacking in this area. What would your advice be?
If your confidence is wavering, try and take a step back, think of all the things you have achieved. Ask people for some positive feedback because often fact-based views on your achievements and capabilities can really give you the boost you need to go for that job, or go back to work after a period of absence. I’ve got two kids and I took 10 months maternity leave for each, so practically had two years out of the workplace, but I just sold the things that I can do and have done. It’s not just women who fall into this trap; a lot of people are really nervous about taking the leap of going external and organisations are good at making you feel like you won't find such a good deal elsewhere. When I was looking for a new role, finding senior part time HR jobs was not all that easy, but actually I discovered a few small high-growth organisations with foresight, who are quite often looking for senior people because they have big ambitions, but they can’t afford them five days a week. Organisations and managers have a big role to play in making individuals realise their potential.

Read more about Fox's top tips for achieving happiness at work and in life in the January 2016 issue of People Management magazine