Allison Karl O'Kelly: Master Balancer

Mom Corps founder Allison Karl O'Kelly tries to bring the flexibility inherent in real estate to moms in all walks of life.

July 1, 2007

You worked at KPMG Peat Marwick and Toys “R” Us and earned your MBA at Harvard. Tell us about the moment when you knew you needed more flexibility to balance work and family.

O'KELLY: Toys “R” Us gave me an incredible opportunity to come back to my management position after my first son was born four years ago. But I found it wasn’t easy to work full-time when your child gets sick. I didn’t feel I could be the person I wanted to be. In retrospect, I was naive, since my mom told my sister and me we could do it all. I left Toys “R” Us. But I decided I needed to find a way to remain in the workforce. In 2005 I founded Mom Corps, a staffing agency, to help other professional women who’ve stepped away from the corporate workforce find part-time or contract work.

Most mothers you place have also stepped away from work to stay home but at some point decide to go back — what’s called sequencing.

O'KELLY: Yes. But I also help those who want to leave full-time jobs altogether and work part-time or on a project basis. We help professionals who are mothers find flexible opportunities where they can earn money, use their skills, and do something interesting. We also help companies gain access to top talent.

Some real estate companies are using virtual assistants to handle administrative or technical work. What kind of worker comes to Mom Corps?

O'KELLY: Our candidates are typically well educated, have a graduate degree, and have worked successfully but need a better balance. Maybe their spouse is relocating, and they want to find a job in the new location.

How tough is it to get companies, including real estate brokerages, to recruit and retain women who don’t want to work full-time?

O'KELLY: It’s hard, but we see companies changing their mind-set. Some think because candidates work only 20 or 30 hours a week, they’re going to call in sick, not show up, or not care as much. The reality is different. Our candidates spend every last minute of those 20 or 30 hours working hard. One struggle they have is getting benefits. We think there should be different benefits packages based on hours worked.

How do part-time and full-time moms coexist without fueling internal “mommy wars”?

O'KELLY: There can be that bit of jealousy. Women need to support one another and acknowledge there’s more than one right to work and raise children. Women need to do what’s right for themselves and their family.

What advice would you give real estate practitioners trying to juggle work and child demands — particularly when competition is fierce?

O'KELLY: Real estate seems to offer the perfect opportunity to partner with someone. You also recognize your priorities, and you don’t take on more listings than your lifestyle can handle.

Nobody can have it all. What have you given up to run your business, raise sons, aged 2 and 4, and stay happily married?

O'KELLY: I’ve given up some sleep, downtime at the end of the day, and time with friends. I work a lot but have flexibility.

Do dads need a Dad Corps?

O'KELLY: Dads are welcome to come to us. We have a number of men in our database.

For more on O’Kelly, CEO and founder of Mom Corps in Atlanta, visit

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).