SWAT Moms

According to The Wall Street Journal in How Stay-at-Home Moms Are Filling an Executive Niche:

"Lots of employers would like to be able to hire cheap, temporary teams of seasoned pros with experience managing $2 billion investment portfolios, running ad campaigns or earning Ph.D.s in neuroscience,"

I agree -- although I'm stupified that corporate America has been so slow to locate these ideal teams of temp employees, since all of us know where to find them: the local playground. Welcome to a new acronym, the mommy "SWAT team": Smart Women With Available Time. This moniker describes just about every stay-at-home mom I know, high voltage, seasoned employees who are taking time off to raise our kids.

"What's different about these teams is that they're available on short notice because the women are usually at home; they tend to work cheap because their main motive is to keep their skills fresh; and they're often extraordinarily well-qualified, having left the work force voluntarily when their careers were on the ascent."

The new trend among highly-educated women to stay home with kids marks a new kind of empowerment, says Mary Naylor, a mom herself and CEO of VIPDesk, an Alexandria, Va., company with several hundred "team members" who primarily work full time and part time from home, providing virtual call center and concierge services to the customer service industry.

"High-powered career women have decided they would rather have the flexibility of working from home, when they want, around their children's schedule, instead of working 50+ hours per week on someone else's schedule," explains Naylor. "The work-at-home industry, fueled by well-educated, hard-working stay-at-home moms, is poised to boom given the current economic trends, where companies need flexible, cost-effective employee solutions."

Usually, a lousy economy has not favored women balancing paid employment and raising children, since companies have greater negotiating leverage during times of economic slowdown. Most advances for working women came during World War II and the mid-1980s and 1990s when unemployment was low and demand for skilled workers, of either gender, was high. But now, perhaps for the first time, we're seeing a soft economy coupled with women's flexibility turn into a potential advantage for SWAT moms.

What's your take? Do you see evidence of the rise of SWAT moms? Have you hired a SWAT team? Would you like to join one?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  May 7, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Workplaces
Previous: At-Home Dads Not Kissing Under the Swings | Next: Mother's Day


Add On Balance to Your Site
Keep up with the latest installments of On Balance with an easy-to-use widget. It's simple to add to your Web site, and it will update every time there's a new entry to On Balance.
Get This Widget >>


Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



"SWAT team": Smart Women With Available Time.

I am not sure where this idea of available time comes from? I don't know too many stay at home parents who have extra time. You can barely get everything done in a day as is!!

Posted by: HappyDad | May 7, 2008 7:31 AM

I love this idea, and I'd join a team in a heartbeat. But really, SAHMs are available on short notice? Is there some kind of pool of short-term, instant-hire, full-time baby sitters out there that I haven't noticed? I can't imagine working at home with my two-year-old and no child care.

Posted by: NewSAHM | May 7, 2008 7:46 AM

This is great - there are several companies out there that are putting this idea to use. I believe I will be targeting them when the summer is over - if my old job (cough) does not call.

NewSAHM: I think perhaps they are targeting those with kids in school. My almost 3 YO will be in five days a week, and while it will be 9-1, there will be before and after care i could take advantage of from 8-3 if needed - and my other son will be in school 8-3 as well.

Both my kids have been great nappers, so actually, I always had hours of time on my hands while they napped. I spent that time, mostly, in the kitchen cooking. And from time to time would call a friend to come over and hang out while I ran errands.

Posted by: atlmom | May 7, 2008 7:51 AM

I'd sign up for a SWAT team if there were one here in Chapel Hill, RTP. Anybody know of one?

And more time becomes available as kids get older. More time in different places though. My 17 yr old boy is juggling two girlfriends right now. His first lessons in time management, I guess.

Posted by: dotted | May 7, 2008 7:53 AM

Seems to me this would work best for SAHMs with children in school where there could be set available hours each day or week. Otherwise the available time would fall after bedtime or on weekends which may not mesh with the employer's needs. I like the idea though and think it could also work well with recently retired folks. My mother retired last year after a successful career. She would love to find part-time interesting work on a flexible schedule but has not had much luck. This is another untapped market that could be a real boon to employers in terms of getting high skill for lower cost.

Posted by: Pt Fed Mof 2 | May 7, 2008 7:53 AM

Yes, I don't understand companies that don't want part time employees. My company seemed to not be able to get it together due to HR issues. Of course, maybe they're happy I left, but that makes no sense, since I know the work coming down at the moment.

I think that this economy makes it easier to get part time and temporary work since companies wouldn't be making such an investment with benefits, etc. I plan to target a few companies that I figure would want a part time person with my experience. We'll see.

But really, it's about time these kind of companies started getting recongnized!

Posted by: atlmom | May 7, 2008 8:01 AM

All this is fine if you were in a management track, a white collar worker. What happens to the majority of women, who weren't "extraordinarily well-qualified, having left the work force voluntarily when their careers were on the ascent?" And honestly, it seems to me that these women are providing companies with yet another source of cheap labor (benefit-free). Why put women on the executive track, prime them to break through the glass ceiling, if you can divert them to yet another Mommy Track?

Posted by: babsy1 | May 7, 2008 8:38 AM

My 17 yr old boy is juggling two girlfriends right now. His first lessons in time management, I guess.

Posted by: dotted | May 7, 2008 7:53 AM

No, no, those are live grenades, dotted!

As for today's topic, I'm going to be quietly thrilled to hear what others report.

Back to your regularly scheduled program.

Posted by: Maryland Mother | May 7, 2008 9:06 AM

The increased likelihood of SWATs will be an interesting to track. I'm an economist working on a federal survey that looks at how people spend their time, and have done a little bit of research on how mothers manage their time. There are definitely lower income mothers who are more likely to be working multiple jobs, or working nontraditional hours, for whom this might not work.

Posted by: canary28 | May 7, 2008 9:16 AM

My wife works full time, but has found talented stay-at-home moms to be a huge resource. They are smart and work on an as-needed basis. They are given a task and a deadline, and they decide when to do the work. Doesn't work for every industry -- but I think office culture the biggest hurdle my wife conquered to get this type of extra help in place.

Posted by: Arlington Dad | May 7, 2008 9:27 AM

Our company uses them ALL THE TIME! They're ex-employees who resigned to spend more time with their families--but they're available to work as needed (usually when their kids are in school). They can come in and hit the ground running...do some work in the office, and the rest at home. And they're an excellent solution when we have an employee who resigns and we need to fill a gap. Or, when we have a temporary glut of work that doesn't require a new hire--but rather someone who can fill in temporarily and get the job done.

Posted by: Kattoo | May 7, 2008 9:48 AM

"What happens to the majority of women, who weren't "extraordinarily well-qualified, having left the work force voluntarily when their careers were on the ascent?""

That's an issue, but that isn't who this blog is about. It's discussing an entirely different segment of the population... not every blog topic has to reference every single woman (and really, how would that be possible?).

Posted by: va | May 7, 2008 9:48 AM

While I'm sure this is a wonderful idea for those who don't need to work full-time, so they can keep their skills fresh -- I don't think it will do us full-time women any good and I'd rather not see them in my workplace.

It is hard enough as it is to procure good assignments at work. If I have to leave at 5:30 every day to pick my kids up I'm competiting against others who will stay, and who can beat me out for the good assignements with lasting career benefits.

To have a cadre of "cheap" Moms who can pull all the stops out for short periods of time seems like more competition to me.

I'm all for solidatiry with my fellow mothers, but I have a feeling this is just another ploy to lower wages for women. While those Ivy-league Moms are keeping their skills up-to-date and enhancing their future resumes I'll be toiling away on the same-old-same-old.

So, SWAT Moms - don't be surprised if I'm not your best bud while you swoop in and do something fun.

Posted by: RoseG | May 7, 2008 9:57 AM

babsy1: Your point is valid -- there was at one point a trend towards outsourced reservation call centers using home based workers that targeted moms who wanted extra income. Don't know how this will play out in a slowing economy. At least in that scenario the barrier to entry is a computer (which seem to get cheaper by the day) and broadband... which I would hope is subsidized as a job expense.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | May 7, 2008 9:58 AM

Wow, RoseG. How interesting. Those women clearly don't want your job (okay, or men but that's less likely). Why would you be so antagonistic?

Those women (okay, me included) are looking for something to do and if there is a role to fill in a company, then what's the problem? Is your solution to increase your workload rather than take some help from someone who wants to help? Since the companies are not up to hiring a full time person for whatever reason.

Posted by: atlmom | May 7, 2008 10:04 AM

"Yes, I don't understand companies that don't want part time employees."

You know, this is an interesting concept, and I'll be interested to see how it plays out, and if part-time, flexible work gets more accepted. I know in the past, part of the objection to part-time work has been financial. Yes, you pay less in salary, and maybe you ditch the benefits, but a lot of the fixed costs still remain: a part-time worker still needs an office space, still needs a secretary, still needs a computer and phone, etc. etc. etc. So someone who does half the work as a full-timer may cost the company 75% of the cost of a full-timer -- it makes part-time not as cost-effective.

But working at home would seem to provide an opportunity to change this dynamic, because the employee bears all those fixed costs -- the company doesn't need to pay for office space, supplies, electrical usage, etc. for these people, and secretarial support is likely way down as well. So part-time becomes as profitable as -- or more profitable than -- full-time.

Of course, you're also dealing with existing corporate bureaucracies, which are used to doing things as they've always been done. So I doubt this is going to be an instant hit. Then again, you could sell it as a version of the outsourcing that is so common nowadays, so who knows? Like I said, I'll be interested to see what happens.

Posted by: Laura | May 7, 2008 10:06 AM

This is just another variation on "moonlighting". Lots of folks in the engineering field do it all the time. I know of a number of people who took free-lance jobs setting up and running a website, or reviewing proposals (or writing them), or advising on a business plan, or teaching, or ...

You can do it while being a "stay at home" or even while working full-time, as long as your employment agreement permits. When I was a Fed I knew many, many other Feds who did work like this.

Yes, this doesn't apply to everyone; it can't be done in some career fields. But certainly for some career fields, this is a good strategy.

RoseG and others who worry about the "competition" - that's a valid point. But that's the nature of the world today. It's cheaper for a university to hire a bunch of adjuncts than one or two more tenure-track professors. It's cheaper for the company to outsource programming assignments to body shops in India or China. It's cheaper for a law firm to outsource low-level work to lawyers in India. It's even cheaper for executives to outsource a lot of personal assistant duties to folks in India. That's the way the world is going to go; there's not much that's going to change that; and the best thing to do is be ready to compete in that world.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | May 7, 2008 10:13 AM

yeah, armybrat: I was looking into teaching at a community college (no phd, harder to get job at university). I was amazed that the pay for one semester course is LESS than I made teaching as a graduate student 15 years ago.

Posted by: atlmom | May 7, 2008 10:20 AM

Don't worry, RoseG, they (SWAT) will get the most boring assignments and you gals in the office will have first pick. Besides, I noticed the emphasis on "virtual call center and concierge services " in the blog entry. Hardly a professional. There is a contradiction in the blog. I can see it as an advertisment for the service where a professional woman will come and hear "oh, we'll put you on call service on your cell".

On the other hand, you are right about the management using those shadow employees as an axe hanging over your head. It's not necessary to use it, just enough to let it hang there so you know.

Posted by: ShawneThePI | May 7, 2008 10:22 AM

atlmom: "yeah, armybrat: I was looking into teaching at a community college (no phd, harder to get job at university). I was amazed that the pay for one semester course is LESS than I made teaching as a graduate student 15 years ago."

When I was an adjunct, I was paid less than the graduate student who served as my grader. When I complained, I was told that the university did it that way because that stipend was the grad student's only income, while my pay was a supplement to my Fed salary.

Then they told me if I didn't like it they'd find somebody else. Laws of supply and demand, you know. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | May 7, 2008 10:24 AM

Finding meaningful work that you love with a flexible schedule can be the most challenging task on the planet!!!

I am a marketing professional, and know moms who work until 4p and then again from 9pm after kids bedtime into the wee AM hours!
Somewhere in there comes meal production, shopping, homework and if we are lucky - 10 mins for ourselves!

Posted by: adriennec | May 7, 2008 10:43 AM

Why aren't there any comments after 10:43?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 1:11 PM

"Most advances for working women came during World War II and the mid-1980s and 1990s when unemployment was low and demand for skilled workers, of either gender, was high."

I can't speak to the 1980s and 1990s, but the part about WWII is absolutely untrue. There is a common perception of women flocking to the factories in order to secure well-paid positions, being supported with government-provided daycare and shopping services, and then being ungraciously booted from jobs they adored after the war ended.

The reality is quite different. Most middle-class women had no interest in working, in a factory or elsewhere. (During my dissertation research, I found a Young & Rubicam survey in which middle-class women were asked why they did not enlist in the services or take a war-production job. Most of them agreed with the statement "What I am doing now is more important than military service or war production," and most of those women held no job at all. A decent percentage were unmarried and presumably had no family to look after.)

Many women who did work enjoyed their jobs; they went to work out of general patriotism, because their husbands were serving overseas and they wanted to support the war effort, because they wanted to supplement the family income while their husband was in the service, because their husband worked in the same Boeing plant. They had plenty to complain about, though; many were unhappy with the childcare provided, they did not relish the idea of keeping house while working six twelve-hour shifts in a B-24 factory (and keep in mind that keeping house in 1943 was very much more strenuous than it is today), shops closed at 5 PM and it was difficult to do the marketing on their work schedules.

The vast majority of these women never intended their war work to be the entree into a larger career; they signed up for the duration and were happy and relieved to quit their jobs and go back home when the war was over. It makes sense; prior to the war, many women had undergone severe economic privation due to the Depression, and the postwar "return to normalcy" was very compelling indeed.

Sorry to be a pedant, but I've heard this myth repeated before, and it's just not true.

Posted by: Lizzie | May 7, 2008 1:33 PM

I don't feel like it's being antagonistic to foresee workers with -experience managing $2 billion investment portfolios, running ad campaigns or earning Ph.D.s in neuroscience - as swooping in and picking up plum short-term assignments at the expense of regular staff.

I don't think this is about women working part-time from home staffing call centers or processing claim forms.

It's about a labor supply of "stars" using their advantage of not working full-time as leverage to work on interesting projects - depressing the opportunities of those who are there day in and out.

In reality I suspect there are far more mothers staffing call centers or processing reservation orders who do so not to keep their resumes up to the minute, but to pull in a few dollars while minimizing their expenses. Those are the women I feel for.

Posted by: RoseG | May 7, 2008 2:08 PM

"It's about a labor supply of "stars" using their advantage of not working full-time as leverage to work on interesting projects - depressing the opportunities of those who are there day in and out."

So TRUE!! This just happened at my company (which I'm leaving in 1.5 weeks--woo hoo!). I'm here, full-time, with the EXACT skills they needed for a project. But no, they wanted an "expert" and found a woman who is home with her kids who supposedly had all this knowledge and experience I didn't. So they hired her--for $175 an hour--and it turned out that not only did she not have the skills she claimed to have, she was late to every meeting or conference call, rude, and did sloppy work. We're paying this person $175 an hour to write--then we have to re-write it?! Even though they complain about her they are still using her--I have no idea why.

I think there's some weird reverse stereotype (if that's even what it would be called) where there is this assumed (or real?) trend of educated, professional women who quit their careers to be home with kids. It's like because they're not on the job market they're somehow more desirable? If they were hiring full-time they wouldn't hire her, but for this project they liked the fact that they were able to hit the jackpot and get this "expert" who would have normally been out of our league. I don't know how else to put it except that I 100% agree with RoseG that the whole movement towards outsourcing is a natural threat towards full-time employees.

The other side of it, though, is that I think outsourcing will ultimately work to everyone's advantage. If nothing else it's getting companies to realize that flex work arrangements can actually work, which bodes well for the future of the overall must be in the office 9-5 culture.

Posted by: Maggie | May 7, 2008 2:31 PM

Although in a few years I want to work part time and hope to land one of those plum SWAT assignments when my kids are in middle school and high school, I find that I agree with RoseG and Maggie comments wholeheartedly. I don't feel threatened in my current job as a civil servant but I would feel threatened in any other job situation without the civil service job protection.

I would argue that those "star" SWAT women would not have left their fields if their companies had more family friendly policies. I would rather see a firm implement a flex time or a part time track for existing employees. Finally, I want to see some concrete examples of how this works in fields other than computer science and web design. Let's pick a profession where it takes years to get training or to become a "star" and where taking time off means falling behind in contacts, subject matter knowledge, and new technologies.

Posted by: dc reader | May 7, 2008 2:56 PM

We've seen a great deal of difficulty in nursing, where more and more people work for traveling companies or registries. You never know if the nurse really has the abilities you hope for, and the nurse has no investment in the day-to-day work needed to keep a unit going. Assuring adherence to national and local standards, and continuity of care really suffer. So much of our work involves keeping families informed, and facilitating difficult decisions. If you have a different, non-involved nurse every day, the patient and the family don't get the care they need.

Posted by: babsy1 | May 7, 2008 2:57 PM

The other side of it, though, is that I think outsourcing will ultimately work to everyone's advantage. If nothing else it's getting companies to realize that flex work arrangements can actually work, which bodes well for the future of the overall must be in the office 9-5 culture.

Posted by: Maggie | May 7, 2008 2:31 PM

Personally, I fear that this will lead to more people being forced into part-time work, which will then lead to fewer people being qualified to get health insurance through their employer.

Congratulations on getting out of your current situation. I'll be listening for the tinkle of crystal on the 16th!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 2:59 PM

The reality is quite different. Most middle-class women had no interest in working, in a factory or elsewhere. (During my dissertation research, I found a Young & Rubicam survey in which middle-class women were asked why they did not enlist in the services or take a war-production job. Most of them agreed with the statement "What I am doing now is more important than military service or war production," and most of those women held no job at all. A decent percentage were unmarried and presumably had no family to look after.)


I'd be leery of any survey that didn't include the raw data. And I'd still be leery of it, as I wouldn't be surprised if it were "massaged" to fulfill someone's message.

Upshot: we may never know the answer.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 3:02 PM

"It's about a labor supply of "stars" using their advantage of not working full-time as leverage to work on interesting projects - depressing the opportunities of those who are there day in and out."

Happens already -- we call them "consultants." :-)

Really, though, I understand the fear. But I'm not sure how realistic it is. The little stuff that we've outsourced tends to be the gruntwork that people here don't want to do.

Think about it this way: fear of the unknown is a natural human tendency. Companies tend to trust the people they currently have more than people they don't -- if anything, they're overconfident about the abilities of their own staff. Because they hired them, you know? And since the hiring company/person is brilliant, how could the hiree be otherwise? :-) How many times do you see a job get filled from within, even though more qualified people (on paper) seem to be available outside? How many times does a highly-rated outside consultant get pooh-poohed, because those "smart" guys can't possibly know the business as well as we do? Corporate America is apparently Lake Wobegone, where all the employees are above average. :-)

I see this all the time in my work -- I sometimes do audits and the like to assess past decisions and exposure and such. It's highly specialized work in an already geeky field, I'm an expert in it, and we work with consultants who are equally expert. And yet, every single time we do this, we get varying degrees of pushback, because these guys are always convinced that they and their team are the best and so must be right. Objective assessments of who is "better" just don't come into play. There's no way these guys would even let us through the door unless management really put the gun to their head. So if these guys were faced with a gnarly issue, I just can't see them thinking, dang, you know, maybe I need someone smarter than Joe to handle this.

On the flip side, there's definitely a prejudice against those who are not currently full-time employees of corporate America. They must not have been good enough to get a job there in the first place -- or maybe I couldn't cut it and left. Etc. etc. etc.

So I really doubt that there's a big risk that even a significant portion of corporate America will start looking to outsource plum assignments on any significant scale. More likely they're going to keep the "good" stuff for "their" people. I think this is far more likely to be a viable alternative when the outsider is someone who used to be an insider -- ie, a rising superstar at that firm, who left to do something else, but who they know they can trust.

Posted by: Laura | May 7, 2008 3:02 PM

Well said Laura. I will add that one of the project teams mentioned in the article rewrote 100s of job descriptions after two companies merged. Not exactly a job someone would be flocking to do. At the other end of the spectrum a start up company got what they called "C" type managers (aka Chief) at a rate they could afford.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | May 7, 2008 3:54 PM

Maggie: well, then there's a reason you're leaving that company, right? You showed us right there.

So companies that don't treat their employees well (i.e., as Laura said; giving the employees the plum jobs, not hiring consultants for exhorbitant money that they have no business earning (by the way, how do I get that assignment?)) - will be looking for new employees or will be out of business. It's very simple. You can find a new model, but if you don't use it well, then you won't do better. But other companies will figure out how to do it better, and your company won't do so well.

Now how do I find a company wiling to pay me $100 million to run a company into the ground? I'd even take half that ;)

Posted by: atlmom | May 7, 2008 4:37 PM

And there's my (former) company who said they'll call me in the fall to work for them part time. They have a whole manual on part time employees, but not one employee there works part time. Hmmm.

We'll see what happens.

Oh, and they posted 'my' position as an out of school with no experience position - so that they could pay someone less than I was making. Works out well for my former control freak boss who is worried about others stealing his job.

Posted by: atlmom | May 7, 2008 4:40 PM

"I'd be leery of any survey that didn't include the raw data. And I'd still be leery of it, as I wouldn't be surprised if it were "massaged" to fulfill someone's message.

"Upshot: we may never know the answer."

It included all the raw data. The survey in question was done at the behest of the Department of Defense, who wanted to know the best ways to market military service and defense production jobs to women. In order to do that, they needed to know why women weren't taking those jobs. The survey in question was repeated at six-month intervals to gauge shifts of opinion as the war progressed.

There are lots of things we may never know, but the data on this particular issues is as clear as it can possibly be.

Posted by: Lizzie | May 7, 2008 4:43 PM

Here's a timely twist on this topic. As I wrote above, I am leaving my job as a writer/web developer to go do the same thing but at a better place with better benefits and flexibility. I just learned today that they are replacing me with someone "just out of school" who can write and is eager and wants to learn. Oh, and they're dropping the salary to not quite but almost half what I make. To take up the slack they're currently using two $150+ per hour consultants--a media relations person and a writer. They could easily hire a writer with media relations experience, but they're choosing to do exactly what we're talking about here--give the lowly, low-paid tasks to the actual employee but farm out the more interesting stuff to--coicidentally--two SAHMs.

Posted by: Maggie | May 7, 2008 4:49 PM

Atlmom--I hadn't read your comment yet when I wrote that--that's exactly what they're doing with mine! I don't know whether to feel like I suckered them all this time I was working here and making way more than the new person will be making, or insulted that they feel that's all this position is worth? Bottom line is who cares because I'm leaving!

Posted by: Maggie | May 7, 2008 4:52 PM

"Oh, and they posted 'my' position as an out of school with no experience position - so that they could pay someone less than I was making. Works out well for my former control freak boss who is worried about others stealing his job."

Or, maybe your opinion of yourself is too high.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 5:06 PM

I can't believe everyone is treating this like some new concept. What's the big deal? Honestly, I don't get it. My mother was doing something similar in the 60's and 70's when I was growing up.

She's a physical therapist - retired now. She'd work week ends or cover vacations at hospitals and clinics whenever their full-time staff wasn't available. Child care for me and my siblings was neighborhood high schoolers, who rode the bus home with us from school until we were old enough to be latch-key kids.

Posted by: Sue | May 7, 2008 6:09 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2007 The Washington Post Company