Fairygodboss was delighted to hear from the incredible Manon DeFelice, Founder & CEO of Inkwell, this week. Though her career path has consistently focused on women’s issues, it's taken her from law school to advocacy work to founding her own company. Today, this legal expert matches talented parents with flexible jobs so they can maintain a healthy work-life balance, and the reasons why are seriously inspiring.
Fairygodboss Of the Week: Manon DeFelice
Founder & CEO, Inkwell
Greater New York City Area, New York
FGB: Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
MD: I have always had a passion for women’s issues, and that passion has guided my career from its beginning to where I am today. As a law school student I interned at the District Attorney’s Office of New York in the Sex Crimes Unit, and later I served as Assistant Counsel in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office of Criminal Justice, developing the city’s first anti-human trafficking policy. Prior to Inkwell, I spent five years as Executive Director and General Counsel of the AHA Foundation, the first organization focused on ending honor violence, forced marriage, child marriage, and female genital mutilation (FGM) in the United States.
I launched Inkwell in 2013 because I noticed a brain drain of extraordinary women from the workforce after they had children. I wanted to find a way to keep more women in the workplace, and it was clear to me that flexible work arrangements were the ticket to closing that gender gap. Because dads, too, benefit from better work-life balance, Inkwell also places men in flex jobs—yet we keep a special emphasis on highly accomplished women. The companies benefit too, because they can lower their overhead and improve their ROI by hiring flexible workers at affordable rates.
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
MD: My biggest accomplishment would be starting a company with my third baby as a newborn. Inkwell is like a fourth child: I have nurtured it, given it my best resources, and watched it grow. I love that I could do all this, literally with a baby on my lap at times.
FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
MD: Every day I face the challenge of achieving better work-life balance. In today’s plugged-in world, the division between working and not working is often blurred. I’m not sure that you ever really overcome this; it’s a constant work-in-progress or prize in the distance, like a holy grail.
I work a few days a week out of my home office, and I’ve found that working from home can be both a gift and a curse. Even when all three of my children are in school, I’m on my cellphone until I go to bed at night. There’s no turning off the phone and putting it somewhere else, because the phone is also my alarm clock. I often spend a half-hour answering emails on my phone before I get out of bed in the morning.
I have found that keeping a meditation practice, even just 10 minutes a day, can help me be more present with my kids and with my work. But keeping up a consistent meditation practice has been a challenge in itself!
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
MD: You need to find a job that doesn’t feel like a job: Do something that you love. Think back to what you really liked to do in high school. Could it translate into a career? I wrote my thesis on FGM, and later I ran a nonprofit on that. As a teenager I started a tutoring service called Help Team, in which high school students tutored younger kids. I’m naturally drawn to entrepreneurial work and mentoring.
FGB: Why do you love where you work?
MD: Working at home, I get to be a part of my kids’ daily life. I see them when they eat breakfast and when they come home from school; I coordinate their activities and their pickups. While my husband often has no idea where our children are during the weekday, I know where they are at all times.
FGB: Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? Why?
MD: That would be Annie Govan Dickerson, my mentor and the director of the Paul E. Singer Family Office. She’s very senior and successful, and she’s always supporting, mentoring, and helping women. Annie has always been very supportive of me and my work; she has dedicated her career to helping and inspiring women.
FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
MD: My favorite things to do are travel and spend time with my kids, preferably at the same time. I live my kids’ lives when I’m not working; I love being a part of their world. As for the world beyond, the last place I went was Miami. The next place I’ll go? Cartagena for Memorial Day weekend with just my husband.
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
MD: Malala Yousafzai, the girl from Pakistan who stood up to the Taliban as an activist for female education. She is 19 years old now and was the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate in 2014. It would be awesome to get a little bit of her to rub off on me so I could rub it off on my daughter, Margaux (age 9).
FGB: What is your karaoke song?
MD: “Country Road”—my husband is from West Virginia.
FGB: What is your favorite movie?
MD: Dirty Dancing. Patrick Swayze—need I say more?
FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
MD: How to Survive on a Desert Island. A survival guidebook would be a good choice, no?
FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
MD: I don’t buy a lot of stuff; I’d rather spend my money on travel. And restaurants. If I won the lottery I would rent a yacht, sail around Croatia, and eat sea critters.
Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women - so each week, we celebrate a woman who made a difference in another woman’s career. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate her and thank her by nominating her here.