Two years ago Manon DeFelice launched Inkwell, a recruiting agency specializing in placing high-level professional moms in positions with flexible or part-time schedules. In the past six months the agency grossed $500,000 in commissions, and is projected to hit 7-figures in 2016.
Impressive numbers for DeFelice, a 35-year-old mom of three kids ages 8 and younger, who was inspired by personal experience. The Barnard and Brooklyn Law grad spent her early career in MayorMichael Bloomberg’s Office of Criminal Justice, and as executive director of the AHA Foundation, which focuses on female human rights issues. In her career, DeFelice faced discrimination for being pregnant, taking maternity leave and breastfeeding in the office, she says. She also struggled to find balance between her New York City office and three children and husband in Greenwich, Conn.
“My mom (Denisa Wagner, PhD., MIT-educated head of the blood research program at Harvard) is a world-famous scientist, was at times the primary breadwinner, and an amazing role model, but she worked all the time,” DeFelice says. “I didn’t want to not work, but I didn’t want to be MIA from my family, either.”
Inkwell has a database of 2,000 C-suite and other high-level professionals — mostly mothers – seeking that same balance. An example DeFelice’s 50 placements include head of HR at an established startup struggling to afford a qualified candidate. DeFelice explained that a mom would accept a below-market salary en lieu of a flexible schedule. She was right. The dot-com’s new CFO is a mom who earns $240,000 per year. She was recently the global head of human resources at a luxury brand, earning $500,000 plus very rich benefits. “She had just had her second baby, and was flying to different cities every week, working insane hours” DeFelice said.
The woman was willing to slash her income by more than 50 percent in order to work four days per week — one of them from home.
Gender equality in the workplace isn’t just good for women—it’s great for business too.
It may indeed be working parents’ choice to accept much lower pay in order to achieve live balance. Isn’t the fact that balance requires such drastic paycut a setback for women, families and closing the pay gap?
No, DeFelice says. “Otherwise that woman would have dropped out — and may never have been able to get back in,” she says.
After all, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research widely reported study found that a woman’s earnings take on average a 30 percent dive after being out of the workforce for as little as two yeras.
Most of DeFelice’s friends from Columbia stopped working after having children, and in her affluent Greenwich community, “None of the wives work,” she says. “That is sad for them, and sad for their daughters. All they see is Wall Street guys and wives who don’t work.” It is the wives — often highly educated and previously professional powerhouses — who come to DeFelice begging for opportunities. “They say, ‘I can’t play another round of tennis. What do you have for me?’” she says. Technology and the economy mean that an absence of seven or more years “makes it almost impossible for me to find anything above an admin position,” DeFelice says. Inkwell positions pay on average $90 per hour for part-time or contract work, or $100,000 for a fulltime staff position — but that staff position will likely be filled by a mom who previously earned far more, with a more senior title.
DeFelice says that most of her placements are in tech, an industry notoriously lacking in female employees, and famous for flexible work environments.
But this flexible schedule is often offered en lieu of stock options. “So women are losing out on the equity side, maybe, but often the equity is not worth anything in the end,” DeFelice says.
“I’m trying to stop the brain drain,” DeFelice says. “Women are educated at the best schools, and trained at the best companies, but then they quit because they want to go to music class Tuesdays with their baby. That is bad for lifetime earnings, bad for marriages, and the world misses out on women’s contributions. Aside from staying home fulltime, or working fulltime crazy hours, there are very few third options. I’m helping moms find a third option.”
Hey mom, on the cusp of quitting your job? Inkwell’s Manon DeFelice says do these four things before giving notice:
- Ask for what you want. Determine what it is you need– is it working from home three days per week? Fridays off? The flexibility to take off when your child is sick? Approach your boss with an open mind, and ask for it — even if your company has never granted such a benefit. “Remember that it is very expensive to replace employees,” DeFelice says.
- Be creative and open-minded. If you decide to seek out a new position, be open to a different industry or job title. Tech has created many opportunities that you have never heard of, but may excel at.
- Get in touch with your inner high schooler. DeFelice urges women to go back to their teen years and remember what really excited them. That is usually a clue at what you will be passionate about and successful at today. DeFelice, for example, wrote her senior-year thesis on female human trafficking. “Make your work matter,” she says.
- Do not drop out. ”Whatever you do, do not quit working,” urges DeFelice. There were years early in her career when she earned less than her nanny, but those years were an investment in her future earnings. “Sometimes you have to think of the years you’re working when your kids are young as an internship. But once your youngest is in kindergarten, you will be so glad you did.”