Trading SAHM for SWAT?
By Yes, Virginia • April 30, 2008•Other Career Issues
There's a new article by Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal that highlights an interesting trend:
The decision among some highly educated women to stay home with children is sparking a countertrend: The rise of the mommy "SWAT team." The acronym, for "smart women with available time," is one mother's label for all-mom teams assembled quickly through networking and staffing firms to handle crash projects. Employers get lots of voltage, cheap, while the women get a skills update and a taste of the professional challenges they miss.
This article seems mostly applicable to the MBA crowd, but similar things are happening in the law (Axiom Legal, for example, is a firm that provides flexible legal hiring). I'm not sure, however, if the trend this article discusses is a good or bad development--after all those long hard years getting a higher education and in the work force, should these women be contracting themselves out for bottom dollar (i.e., aren't they worth more than that, even on a part-time or temporary basis)? Or is this a good way for companies to get affordable troubleshooters and for these women to keep their fingers in the mix? And is this one way to help women who have elected to stay home (perhaps for a limited period of time) be able to "ramp on" in the future?
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Elizabeth May 01, 2008
SWAT seems harder to replicate in law because legal services are often client-focused and long-term. Most firm projects take months if not years to complete from start to finish, and the biggest (arguably most interesting) pieces of the work require more than a few days or sporadic hours and are best done by attorneys who are living and breathing the case during its entire lifespan. Also, law is such a client-focused enterprise that limited availability isn't ideal. My assumption about the SWAT moms is that they only want to work while their kids are in school and still want their first priority with their time to focus on their kids' needs, which means their available time might make them best suited to do doc review (not exactly a great way to hone professional skills). Law is hard because there are very few discrete pieces that can be carved off cases that are actually interesting work.
Peg May 01, 2008
I have to disagree. Firms are very good at finding discrete and interesting projects for summer associates each summer. The same criteria for projects that the firm uses for summers it could use for SWATs. (Summers also have competing priorities like long lunches and summer associate events that usually take priority over real work.)
veronica May 02, 2008
Sure if it forced women (or anyone) without other responsibilities into taking lower wages and less security,then that would be bad. That's not what we studied for is it? But I think once you have the mewling bundle of joy and realize just how hard it is to get out of the house (let alone avoid smelling like a milkshake) you could change your perspective.
At the moment women with small kids have 2 choices - leave work altogether and hope you're not like me (I went insane as a SAHM, I just had to have some adult responsibilities)... or keep chugging along and outsource your kid close to completely. It shouldn't be those 2 choices but it is. Part time hours at law firms are what industry calls full time!
The only danger with this plan is that you must not forget that you still need childcare help, the amount and type varying with the age of the child. I can imagine thinking when my son was born that I could keep working a few hours a day or a couple of days a week from home while he napped, pausing every couple of hours for a quiet breastfeeding session. Not so. There were many days I spent the whole day just holding him because, well, that's what he wanted, and at 3 months, or even 5 months, they tend to get what they want pretty effectively.
I've never worked in litigation but in corporate work there are definitely interesting roles and matters that could be handled like that. Even advisory work. It isn't all transactions or cases.