Alumnae Portraits
30 June 2020

Alumnae Find the Right Balance in Job-Sharing

Karen Hamann (MA '12)  and Michèle Gendotti (MA '11) head a section of the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration responsible for issues of subsidiary protection, family reunification, statelessness, second asylum and other related matters as part of a job-sharing initiative. They were both aware of the significant struggles of combining a satisfying family life without having to give up their ambitions for a professional life, so they began applying for positions as a team. 

“We shared the experience that having a career at all – as married women between 30 and 35 – was almost impossible, and how a potential maternity leave or part-time working schedule hinders professional development”, they said. “We are aware of the risk of working mothers to burn out, part of what German feminist Alice Schwarzer called the ‘exhausted generation’ of women who try to do it all. Working part-time with flexible percentages and working hours, and the opportunity to work from home makes it easier to care for our children while also performing well at work”.

Although both Karen and Michèle are alumna of the Graduate Institute, they first met after an event launched by the State Secretariat for Migration in 2017, which included guest speaker Irenka Krone, who spoke about the advantages of job-sharing, herself a Graduate Institute alumni. 

“With job-sharing, employers gain two brains and the experience of two people for one job,” explained Karen and Michèle. “Two people can balance unexpected leaves and the fact that having two heads in charge of one job may add weight and visibility to it”. 

Today, Michele and Karen have 11 people working in their team and feel privileged to be able to work on this job together in the dynamic field of migration while also being able to spend a significant amount of their time with their families.  

Their time as students at the Graduate Institute provided both women with expected and unexpected tools to help them in their current role. 

“The interdisciplinary academic background certainly helps me to understand the dynamics and the highly politicised context of migration and political asylum in Europe”, writes Michèle. "However, the Institute’s most precious gift to me, and the most powerful motor to my career, were the people. Besides a very rich professional network, very good friendships arose from the Graduate Institute experience. The fact that I am job-sharing with Karen and that our coach is another Institute alumni fits naturally to my personal experience”.

Michèle Gendotti, a Swiss national, worked as a public relations intern at UNHCR before starting her master studies in International Affairs at the Graduate Institute. She began her work career as an intern to the Swiss Federal Department for Justice and Police, in the State Secretariat for Migration. During the following seven years, she had different positions in a section that implements European asylum law (Dublin-III-Regulation). As a deputy head of section, she had the chance to learn and improve leadership and build a professional network. Michèle is the mother of one child (2019) and currently works at 60% in job-sharing.

Karen Hamann is a German jurist whose interest in international law led her to the Institute to pursue a master’s degree in International Law. Prior to studying in Geneva she founded and led the German affiliate of a human rights NGO called IJM, advocating in the area of law and law enforcement for serious human rights violations. At the Institute, she participated in a research project on family reunification at the Global Migration Centre. Today, she is in charge of the Swiss practice in family reunification for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection. Starting off as a legal specialist at the Swiss Federal Department for Justice and Police in 2013, she has worked on issues like statelessness, second asylum and family reunification but has also gotten some insight into Swiss foreign policy on migration while working at the State Secretariat for Migration. Karen has two children (2015, 2017), expecting another addition to the family in December. She works at 70%.