But Folsom didn’t opt out for long. She joined a fledgling recruiting and placement company and turned her prodigious energy toward helping mothers like her to “opt in” — to find fulfilling work in their own time and on their own terms.
With names like Momentum Resources, 10 Til 2, On-Ramps and Flexforce Professionals, these firms are at the forefront of a growing movement to remake the American workplace not just for mothers but for everyone.
Ellen Grealish of Reston, who started Flexforce Professionals with two other working mothers after opting out of the workforce for eight years, said she has seen traditional workplaces embrace flexibility once they’ve seen how these working mothers use it so productively.
That was certainly the case for Mark Madigan, who owns IT Cadre, a software engineering firm in Ashburn. He calls the job candidates Grealish sends him his “smart moms.” And they now make up 10 percent of his workforce.
Flexibility can come with trade-offs: contract jobs with no benefits and no long-term job security, fewer opportunities for advancement or reduced hours with reduced pay.
But those in the opt-in movement say many mothers are willing to give up income if that means taking control of their schedules, and, perhaps most important, doing meaningful, challenging work in their chosen professions rather than what they see as the less interesting work of the often-stigmatized “mommy track.”
“I know mothers at law firms who felt they were relegated to doing less interesting and less time-sensitive work because of the choices they’d made,” said Lilly Garcia, a lawyer and a mother who just joined a new D.C. law practice, Clearspire, that embraces flexibility. “But here, flexibility means more interesting assignments, more challenge.”
‘I got my results’
Momentum Resources, where Folsom is now a partner, has negotiated flexible hours for hundreds of working mothers: new mothers with MBAs, whom studies have found abandon the workforce at levels higher than graduates of any other advanced-degree program. It has arranged telecommuting time for lawyers, work-from-home days for consultants or part-time hours for project managers that end when the school bus arrives.
“In a terrible market, we’re proving that flexibility really is good for both business and working families,” said Folsom, 36, who starts her workday at 5 a.m. before her children wake and often works in the evening after they’re in bed so she can spend afternoons with them. “How and when work gets done is somewhat irrelevant as we’re moving to a more results-oriented workforce. Face time is so five years ago.”