Find a High-Skilled Flex Job

Interesting, financially meaningful, flexible work: It's the Holy Grail for many working moms -- and dads. A lucky handful successfully negotiate part-time or flex-time work at our current companies. However, some companies are not so flexible.

What do you do then? There have always been temp agencies for entry- and mid-level jobs -- a good option for many employees looking for flexibility. The latest trend seems to be connecting companies with high-level employees looking for part-time and project work (and I'm sure there are many more out there, so spread the word on the blog if you know of others).

MomCorps: Specializes in high-level accounting, legal, marketing and IT services on a special project or contract basis. Offices in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Started in September 2005 by Allison Karl O'Kelly, a Harvard Business School graduate and certified public accountant, with the vision of matching companies looking for flexible staffing solutions with experienced professionals. I spoke with Kimberly Berger, regional vice president for the Washington office, who has two sons, ages 4 and 21 months and works about 30 hours per week at MomCorps:

"Before joing MomCorps, I had countless conversations on playgrounds with other mothers who had worked extremely hard to achieve professional success but had also chosen to leave their careers to stay home with their children. Everyone talked about wanting to work but needing flexibility. Over and over we would ask, 'why isn't there a company that could help people like us find work?' There is a huge pool of talent that companies miss out on by not having more flexible work options. MomCorps offers companies high-caliber professionals and saves them money on benefits and training."

McKinley Marketing: This boutique staffing firm provides interim marketing professionals to companies and federal agencies needing marketing and communications staff to cover for maternity/paternity leaves, disability absences, unexpected employee departures and other short-term business needs, including trade show management, new product launches, research and business development. Regional offices are located on the East Coast (Alexandria, Va.) and Southwest (Dallas). Says spokesperson Marcia Call, "Our business is hot because most companies cannot afford to be without top-notch marketing and communications staffs. ... Down-time can spell disaster."

United Talent Group: Also launched in 2005, UTG's mission is connecting growth-oriented companies with talented businesspeople frustrated with the 24/7 demands of traditional corporate roles. The company places independent business professionals in full-time, part-time and flexible interim executive and project consulting roles. Co-founder and mom of two girls under age 5, Amelia Tyagi has an MBA from University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school, worked at management consulting legend McKinsey & Co., co-founded a successful health benefits company and wrote two books,The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke and All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan. UTG is in the process of changing its named to The Business Talent Group.

Tyagi knows that talented employees are in high demand -- a critical fact that women, bombarded by warnings about the perils of the Mommy Track and stepping out of the workforce, sometimes forget: "Moms underestimate how many choices we have. We allow ourselves to feel trapped, forgetting that there are companies that value our talents."

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  April 27, 2006; 6:56 AM ET  | Category:  Flexibility
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Comments

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Leslie, I wonder if you know what you're really talking about. I have what appears to be, to all intents and purposes, a 'dream job'. I teach part-time, on line for a local university. No babysitters needed, no 'emergency child care' when a child is sick, etc. etc. etc. No wardrobe costs, haircuts, commuting, etc. etc. etc.

BUT, I get paid less than half of what a 'real' employee would get and I get NO benefits. I'm still dependent on my husband's health insurance and so forth.

A single woman would be UNABLE to take this job. With no benefits, it would cost her too much to take it.

And even I worry about the precariousness of it. Not knowing whether or not you will have a job two months from now means that while I can 'throw in' my salary to help cover extras like summer camp, I'd be loath to take on a car payment, mortgage or other debt, just assuming I'd have work when I wanted and when I needed the money.

If you ask me, the major beneficiary of these 'flex' arrangements is the company that gets a great employee (who's usually desperate for work) for substandard wages.

It's also kind of humiliating as a woman to be a temp when you're in your fifties.

When we lived abroad in Germany, companies did a much better job of offering part-time jobs WITH FULL BENEFITS, and yes, most of these employees were women with young children.

But until the U.S. government offers full health coverage for everyone (like in Europe), the present 'temp' system is in no way comparable. Try temping for a week, Leslie, and see how much you enjoy being bossed around by a 26 year old, arrogant guy who calls you "Les". We'll make sure you call him "Mr. Porter."

Posted by: Anonymous | April 27, 2006 7:30 AM

Hello, Mystery Poster #1

I do this too, but DO have benefits. Check out this situation. (A major, unnamed local institution of higher ed, ;) )

Yes, I worry about the same things, but the flexibility allows me precious time. I can select free-lance work, with this basis behind me.

Universities do need to address justice issues for adjuncts. How can we enlist the force of parents who send their children to us?

Leslie, thanks for the thoughtful post. Truly you can help us with a forum for discourse and change. Please stop posting the "snarky" scenarios. You may get more blog traffic in the short run, but how about cultivating community.

Posted by: College Park Adjunct | April 27, 2006 8:05 AM

Mystery Poster #1, get over your pride. Is it really that humiliating to be a temp in your 50s? We all have to rise above idiots in the workplace, where we're temp or permanent.

Posted by: YesMom | April 27, 2006 8:43 AM

Leslie, This is interesting and helpful. Thank you!

Posted by: friend | April 27, 2006 9:33 AM

I think this post applies to two types of people/moms (or a combination of both): Those who are in a spot financially where they don't *have* to work (and are perhaps OK with relying on their partner for the bills, health insurance, etc.) but want to because they find it fulfilling, yet don't desire to renter/re-enter the workforce full time.

The other type of person/mom is the one who might need to work (out of a sense of financial independance or simply because their family needs the 2nd income to cover expenses), but can't (or maybe doesn't want to) swing full time employment and the juggling that involves with childcare, etc.

In that case, these companies described are GODSENDS!!! Wow! I'm so excited to hear that there are places out there that have tapped this niche market of workers. I'm getting my resume ready to submit!

Posted by: nat | April 27, 2006 9:39 AM

Thanks for the info on the agencies. I am currently a goverment attorney, and I have chosen this job for lifestyle reasons (I am not part time, but I actually do work 8:30 to 5, which is better than part time hours at some firms). Nonetheless, it is good to know these jobs are out there.

With regard to Commenter No. 1's description of life as a temp, I have to disagree. I temped as a legal secretary for two years prior to going to law school. I was never treated with anything but respect and I was offered a full time job everywhere I worked. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have also worked with temporary employees, generally attorneys, from the other side and always treated people as professionals and with respect. There is, of course, no guarantee that you will not come into contact with a jerk, especially if you take a job with a chip on your shoulder.

While there is a lack of benefits, some temp agencies make them available to their employees after they have worked for a minimum period of time, such as 3 months. Probably not as good as what are available in connection with a full-time job, but there is a cost for flexibility.

I would definitely consider something like this if I did not already have a very good work/life situation.

Posted by: another DC Mom | April 27, 2006 10:20 AM

Leslie,

Thanks so much for this posting. It gives me some hope. I have a two-year old daughter and currently work full time at a foundation - not exactly a life or death job. On the plus side, the job is very much 9 to 5, no evenings, no weekends and occasional travel but nothing too time consuming. I could easily do my job in three days rather than five, and probably do it better as I would be a lot more focused and less tempted to spend hours reading blogs...However, my employer will not let me. The place is managed by three men in their sixties and seventies who believe that employees should always be at their desks. I am one of two employees here that is either over thirty or under fifty so there really are no family-friendly policies in place. We have both tried to work part-time but to know avail. I find this mentality old-fashioned and ultimately self-defeating. Half of my salary goes towards child care, for one child. Should we have a second child, it will actually cost me to work (if you factor in commuting costs) so I will probably quit to stay home. So my company will lose an experienced employee, who they could pay a lot less for working part-time. It does not make a lot of sense to me. I don't want to stay at home full-time but that has always seemed to be the only option with my current job. I am glad to know that there are these companies out there to whom I can turn when and if I want to get back into the workforce.

Posted by: CC | April 27, 2006 11:00 AM

I'm not so sure these companies are offering a useful service, at least for lawyers. I spent 4 years at a large DC firm that used lots of temps. However, they were only used when there was a critical need - such as a large document review that had to be finished quickly. This means that the temp has (1) crappy work and (2) serious deadline pressure. The temps were asked to work 10 hour days, for weeks at a time. This does not seem like a good situation for a woman with young kids. How would she arrange for day care on such an scatter-shot basis? A better solution would be a steady part-time job with set hours, no travel, and flexibility to work from home. I think it's predictability that helps me (I now work for the government) deal with the stress of being a working mom. Temp agencies really can't offer that.

Posted by: Samara | April 27, 2006 11:28 AM

I would think that when one of these companies sends you to work, you're expected to work full-time, stay late, etc. So while you could choose whether or not to take the assignment, once you did take an assignment you wouldn't have much flexibility.

I work via a high-end temp agency (not one of the ones listed) and when on assignment am subject to the same requirements as an employee. This often means staying late, since I've been brought in because there's a looming deadline or a lot of extra work that needs to be done.

At my current assignment, I could easily do the work from home. But the company's contract with the client (a federal agency) specifies that we have to work a minimum of 40 hours a week, in the office. The team is split between two locations, so clearly we don't all need to be in the same place. But for some reason, it's vitally important that you're working at a desk located in an office, not a desk located in your home.

Also, working mothers want flexibilty to stay home with a sick child, leave early to pick up the child, etc. A company that has brought in a temporary employee has done so because there's more work than the current staff can handle. They're not very sympathetic to a temporary employee who needs time off, regardless of the reason.

Posted by: Heather | April 27, 2006 11:41 AM

Those firms sound wonderful if you have the right skills.

I work in IT and things are always changing. If you're a regular employee (full or part-time) you're more likely to be able to upgrade your skills on the job. Temps don't usually have that perk.

I lucked out because my husband could provide health benefits, we just needed the cash from my work. My gov't contractor employer was willing to switch me to an hourly rate and keep me on. It kept me up with what was changing in the industry, but still afforded flexibility. I know a number of techie women who've cut similar deals with their Beltway Bandit employers, so it is possible.

So I say, before you quit and try to find the perfect job, check out whether you can grow your own job right where you are.

Posted by: RoseG | April 27, 2006 12:14 PM

CC has a good point.

A married, childless friend of mine pointed out that American companies were short-sighted. They don't view employees in terms of 'long-term' value, but immediate value. The interesting thing is employee retention is an ongoing concern of employers. The logic is employees don't stay in one place long enough to worry about long term, yet if there were employers that looked at the long-term value of women who take a year or two off for children for whatever reason *Daycare costs are absurdly high* than they would retain those employees for a longer period. Even if those women worked elsewhere, not being penalized for working flex-time or part-time or from the home would probably increase the amount of women who returned to work.

Now, to suggest that working women who take time off should just 'suck it up' and 'deal' is a short-term approach. More than half the work-force is women. I'm curious to see if there were any studies to see how many women in the workplace are also mothers. If it's the majority, than that may explain why there are more and more mom-friendly and parent-friendly companies out there.

Can you imagine what would happen if your only alternative as a women was to either have children and not work, or to work and not have children? Isn't that what the women's movement was about, partially? The belief that being a woman shouldn't force you down the road of motherhood or down the road of a professional career? Wasn't it about, being a mom shouldn't eliminate your career?

Now, there are both mothers and fathers who will put work before their family, but most jobs can be balanced, and while this blog can be harsh toward non-working moms and to returning to work moms and to well, parents in general, for hte most part, people in the workforce on a personal level with their co-workers and bosses and employees are more open-mined and understanding, especially since many bosses and managers have families and children and working wives or husbands themselves.

Posted by: Observer | April 27, 2006 12:22 PM

"When we lived abroad in Germany, companies did a much better job of offering part-time jobs WITH FULL BENEFITS,"

The price for these jobs (and the fact that it can literally take a court action to fire someone in Germany) is high unemployment. It's not as simple as the employee-friendly European model versus the employee-unfriendly American model.

I am an American working for a German company (in the US), under contract instead of as an employee for the reason mentioned above. I've got a great gig that allows me to work from home most of the time, and which makes me a good salary. Most of the time I work 9-6 with no commute. While it's not something that everyone can do, the best way I know to get flexibility is to create a skillset that can be used remotely and supported by high-speed Internet and an airport.

Ask yourself: What can I do to provide remote, and unique, value to a company, and how can I market it to them?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 27, 2006 2:07 PM

"Can you imagine what would happen if your only alternative as a women was to either have children and not work, or to work and not have children? Isn't that what the women's movement was about, partially? The belief that being a woman shouldn't force you down the road of motherhood or down the road of a professional career? Wasn't it about, being a mom shouldn't eliminate your career?" - Observer

I thought the point of the women's movement was to gain recognition for the fact that a woman can do the jobs that men can do (and also perhaps, that men won't die if they do a little housework or cooking!), and not just the traditional, pink-collar jobs (which are very valuable in their own right - don't get me wrong on that.)

Once that's become accepted fact, it really comes down to whether or not a worker (man or woman) decides to focus on their career, or whether their outside commitments (kids, rock bands, hobbies) pull their focus and energy somewhere else. So yes, in some cases "being a mom" (or dad, or doing whatever else is taking up your time) WILL eliminate your career, or at least your chances of advancing to the highest levels in your field, because employers don't just look at you and say "she's a mom so we won't promote her", they say "she's a mom, and her kids illness/misbehavior/etc. caused her to miss X deadline or meeting, so she's not a good candidate for promotion at this time".

They look for commitment to the job, and if your primary commitment is elsewhere, your career won't advance as fast as someone whose primary commitment is to their career. Sorry.

Posted by: Kid Free in Alexandria | April 27, 2006 2:12 PM

I agree with CG: "Those firms sound wonderful if you have the right skills."

As MysteryPoster#1 and "College Park Adjunt" said, part-time teaching has many challenges. In my adjunct position there were no benefits and I earned only $2,000 per class per semester. At most, I could teach 3 classes per semester (otherwise it would be considered "full time"). Even with taking on many outside projects/lectures, etc, there is no way I could have earned enough to raise a child.

This is why I left the job. I worked from 5 am to well past midnight most days, and it just wasn't worth it. I know many teachers who have come to the same decision. I second "College Park Adjunct's" comment that:
"Universities do need to address justice issues for adjuncts. How can we enlist the force of parents who send their children to us?" I would add that ALL teachers (not just adjuncts) could use the help of parents in addressing these issues.

Posted by: Teacher | April 27, 2006 3:01 PM

I would agree with Kid Free in Alexandria. Something's got to give. I am a working mother, but I have consistently refused promotions that would raise my stress level and not allow me to go home when I need to. So I am glad that I still have a life outside of home, but at the same time I am perfectly aware that I will never become a high ranking exectutive, and that's perfectly fine by me. So that's my compromise - I work, but only in jobs that allow me to leave at 3:00pm sharp (except for true emergencies which do happen sometimes, and then the husband has to jump in and go pick up our daughter from daycare).

Posted by: vj | April 27, 2006 3:14 PM

I know that these websites aren't a panacea for all things working-mom, but they are a start. Leslie's job wasn't to come up with a solution for everyone, but to show that solutions are out there. You just have to look for them. And yes, sometimes they require making sacrifices. But that's not just as a working mother - that's as a human being for anything you really want.

Posted by: Not a mom yet | April 27, 2006 4:15 PM

There are a lot of responses assuming the flex jobs availabe are demanding, grunt work etc.

Don't shoot this stuff down until you have tried! Some probably are, some might not be.

Also- you have to question, are you looking for a solution or only the perfect solution? I'm open to all solutions- perfect and not!

Posted by: Maryland | April 27, 2006 5:00 PM

I work part-time as a tutor. In this area, $75 an hour is the low end of the scale. I have completely flexible hours, I usually work in my home (if dad's not around, then a mommy's helper watches my three year old). The parents who hire me understand the demands of being a mommy and are very accommodating. I happen to be a former teacher, but there is a huge demand for tutors in sciences, math and languages.

The position has no security, benefits, or camaraderie, but it brings in my spending money and uses my education.

All in all, not a bad gig until my little one is in school more. Then I'll be back at work . . . I hope in his school.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 27, 2006 7:07 PM

I am one of the members of the Management team of the Mom Corps, one of the companies cited here. It occurs to me after reading these comments that we have lost sight of one very important thing.... after all this time, there are finally "some" solutions that are springing up that are meaningful and real for the working mom. Are these solutions perfect? Ofcourse not, but Rome wasnt built in a day. Although this may sound self serving, I fear that unless we support and help to progress these types of grass roots solutions..the situation will always remain as it has been for so many years...imperfect with no hope in sight.

Posted by: Mom Corps Mom | April 27, 2006 8:58 PM

First of all it's great to see three MBA moms use their education and experience in a creative way. Second, these "non-permanent" jobs are there for those of us who want to have something on our resumes before we are able to return to work in our chosen careers. Thirdly, I think that in technical fields, such as computers, engineering, science it is much easier to negotiate flex time or work from home b/c your boss can quantify the results. Where it becomes subjective is in liberal arts field where it harder to measure output. So, do I tell my daughter to major in engineering so she can be a flex time mom?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 28, 2006 11:51 AM

Hello Leslie,

I read your article with interest as I am a co-founder of YummyMummyCareers.com which is a job posting site assisting professional women/mothers to connect with appropriate employment. I thought you might find this of interest as mothers are a large segment of the population that are educated and talented and often require assistance in order to find the right job to fit with their lifestyle. YummyMummyCareers.com is working to make this connection to assist mothers and also to assist employers as a creative recruiting resource. Our Employer Directory allows employers to highlight their work environment and such features as email job alerts assist busy moms and our Career Spa offers resources. Kind regards, James Sadler Operations Director Yummy Mummy Careers.com

Posted by: J. Sadler | April 29, 2006 1:22 PM

I'm about to leave my high-paying job as a lawyer with the federal government for a much lower paying state government job.

The big incentive? Part time work through a 50/50 job sharing arrangement with another attorney and full health benefits.

My current office was unwilling to grant any part time arrangment that was less than 32 hours a week or to allow a work-at-home day. That kind of inflexibility costs good employees.

It's exciting that some companies have formed to help professional women find flexible work solutions. It's clearly the wave of the future -- for both moms and dads. Offices like mine will be left behind if they can't accommodate a workforce that demands flexibility.

Posted by: moving on | May 1, 2006 9:56 AM

As someone who has worked in higher education for about a decade, I can say with confidence that while some part-time teaching positions are good jobs (by good, I mean the faculty are decently compensated, treated with respect, given what they need in the way of professional development, have reasonable assurance of academic freedom), the majority of part-time faculty jobs are extremely exploitative. Many part-time faculty receive far less what the hourly rate for full-time teachers would be, have classes cancelled at the last minute with no payment for preparation time, receive no benefits, are let go without investigation because of a few student complaints, and are treated disrespectfully (e.g., no listing in course catalogue, no telephone or computer in office, no invitation to so-called department-wide meetings, no bathroom keys). Most of the "flexibility" these jobs offer is to the employer. Both the faculty members and their students suffer when faculty do not receive the resources they need to prepare and grade carefully, hold office hours, mentor students, and stay current in their field.

This is an issue that should concern mothers not only because women are more likely to wind up in this type of faculty position, but also because in a few years our children will be going to college and will be taught by this cadre of unsupported professionals, who now comprise almost half the faculty in the US.

Posted by: GB | May 1, 2006 5:24 PM

Hi! Very interesting! pbesl

Posted by: John S | August 31, 2006 5:28 PM

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