An Interview with Sheila Murphy of FlexProfessionals

By DullesMoms, May 2012

Women face unique challenges in the workforce when they become a mother to their first or to their third child. Whether you work full- or part-time or stay home with your children — we can all anticipate the bumps in the road of juggling a current or future job, a family, a home and more. Luckily, us moms have Sheila Murphy, mom of 3, who not only knows all about those challenges first-hand — but co-created FlexProfessionals whose target audience is stay-at-home moms looking to re-enter the workforce and current full-time working moms who want to work part-time.

Sheila, mom to 12-year-old Patrick, 10-year-old Kevin, and 7-year-old Maeve has participated in a wide-range of working scenarios. She worked full-time with her first, then 30-hours a week with her second and then to better support her family and husband’s career, stayed home with her third. After being home full-time for 2 years with 3 children Sheila suddenly became a widow. Within a few years of this unexpected change in her and her children’s lives, Sheila, one of three partners, all mothers and experienced businesswomen, co-created Flex Professionals.

Sheila, who admits to a type-A personality (join the club!), wanted to create a business where she could work part-time. Understanding the needs of other mothers, she was able to partner with 2 amazing women— Ellen Grealish and Gwenn Rosener to create a staffing company who understands the need for and value of part-time professional employment. Per Flex Professional “over 62% of working mothers feel part-time is the ideal work situation for their families and them, yet only 25% have part-time jobs.” They believe this imbalance is largely due to a lack of part-time opportunity in the business world. Flex is working to reduce this gap by finding and filling more quality part-time positions in the workplace. The economy enthusiastically agrees — Flex experienced 400% (!!) growth in revenues in 2011!

Sheila was gracious enough to answer some questions for us. I encourage you to also visit their website to learn more about the opportunities they have available.

In your personal and professional opinion, what makes a mom a good candidate for the businesses you represent?
Our candidates – most of whom are moms – are great employees because they are highly productive and efficient. They often have years of experience under their belts, so they can “hit the ground running”, with little supervision and training. They really do have a maturity to them . . . and not just because of their age! They know what their strengths and weaknesses are, as well as the type of work and office environment that best suits them. So when they accept a job offer, they know what they are getting into and they are committed. Moms are often eager to re-enter the workforce and make flexibility work for them and for their employer, so there is a high level of commitment and dedication.

What challenges have you noticed moms face when entering the workforce after an extended leave of absence?
The biggest challenge women face when re-entering the workforce after an extended break is their lack of confidence. It is difficult to network, interview, and land a job when you cannot speak with confidence and in detail about your strengths, skills, and experiences. The bigger the gap in the resume, the harder it often is to speak with confidence and substantive detail. Stay at home moms do not sit around eating bonbons. Instead, they do amazing things like lead PTAs, manage youth sports organizations, and organize high-profile fundraisers. Women need to practice, practice, and practice until they can speak to their experiences with ease and confidence.

What steps can a mom take to maintain her worth as a candidate while a stay-at-home mom or after an extended absence in the job market?
It is so important to find ways to stay relevant and keep your skills sharp while taking time off to raise your family. It doesn’t have to require huge amounts of time and effort, but consider the following:

  • At least once a year, meet a former boss, colleague or co-worker for coffee. Maintaining relationships with people you respect in your industry is critical on many levels. For one, you may need to use them as references someday. Or they may be in a position to hire you in the future (even someone who once worked for you!).
  • Stay connected to your industry by attending conferences, workshops or networking events. Make an effort to read headlines, white papers, blogs, research studies, etc. related to the work you did or the work you would like to do in the future.
  • Be selective about the volunteer work you commit to. Use volunteer opportunities as a way to keep your skill sets sharp or even as a way to learn new skills that will help you in your next job.
  • Take advantage of the many resources available either online or through local colleges and universities to stay current with or learn new technology and other skills.

What makes Flex Professionals different/advantages can Flex provide than other staffing agencies or a mom doing a solo job search?
Flex uses a very high-touch approach to placing candidates into flexible, part-time jobs. We do this to make sure the match is truly a good one for both the candidate and the client (employer). We almost always interview candidates by phone and in person before sending them to a client. It is also very important that we get to know our clients, their business needs and challenges, and their office culture. We do not oversell candidates to clients, nor do we oversell clients to candidates. We really are looking for the right fit.

Discussing the need for flexibility is a difficult conversation to have when speaking to a potential employer. One advantage candidates have when they work with us is that we make it a priority to promote to our clients the value of flexible, part-time work arrangements. When a client decides to work with us, they already understand that our candidates want flexible, part-time work. This is a huge advantage to our candidates because it takes the burden of negotiating for a part-time arrangement away from them.

How has being a mom made you better at your job today?
Thanks to motherhood, I am much better at prioritizing tasks and balancing needs. I am also much more patient and adaptable. Raising three children with very different personalities has helped me to appreciate and respect opinions and ideas that are different from my own. Simply put, being a mom has given me a whole new (and much wiser!) perspective on what is important in life. As I work with my two business partners to grow Flex, we all acknowledge that we are mothers first. The supportive environment that we have created is a key factor in our company’s success.

How do you balance your family while growing such a successful business?
That is the million-dollar question! By far, it is my biggest challenge. We all face similar balancing acts. It seems to be a by-product of the fast-paced society in which we live. I try very hard to cram as much work as I can during school hours. This spring, I struck a deal with my kids. I promised to turn my computer off and limit smartphone use between the hours of 3 pm and 8 pm. In return, they promised to do their homework and attend sports practices without complaining and to put their belongings away (sigh!). It seems to be working . . .

If your children were asked, “What does Mom do?” — how would they answer?
My kids are really proud of Flex Professionals! They are always saying things like “Mom, Flex ought to sponsor this” or “Flex needs to set up a booth at Viva Vienna”. They are starting to think like little businessmen and women, and it cracks me up! They take advantage of any opportunity there is to put my business card in a jar to win something! They know that we work with moms to help them find jobs, and that is pretty cool.

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