Living in the south of France with your partner and two children, five minutes from the Mediterranean, running your own business…
It sounds like a dream life, but Limerick-born Karen O’Reilly and her family returned to Ireland five years ago, as they wanted their children “to grow up Irish”.
“We sat on the fence for about two years before deciding to come home. After I helped the kids during the transition of moving schools and getting settled, I went out to find some work for myself but I found it very difficult,” she told Independent.ie.
A qualified accountant, Karen had been self-employed in her own firm in France for almost 12 years, but she said that as she didn’t “fit into any box”, she wasn’t having any luck.
“I realised that there was little to no options for flexible working, and it was then that I had the lightbulb moment for EmployMum.”
Karen’s first port of call was her local enterprise office, the support of which she attributes largely to help getting the online platform off the ground.
Her idea was to create a kind of match making service for employers and employees, providing opportunities for mothers to fit family and work life together while giving employers access to an untapped skilled workforce.
Having completed a ‘start your own business’ course and gained insights through a 1:1 mentorship, it was after an EXXCEL programme at CIT that the “dream became a reality”.
“I was still receiving great support and mentoring from the local enterprise office but I was now building the website for the company, carrying out market research, working on it full-time,” said Karen.
With a candidate base of zero, the mum-of-two’s big challenge with building her platform was the fact that she didn’t know anyone in the area.
The family had moved back to Clonakilty, which they had fallen in love with on trips back to Ireland when they lived abroad, but her network was small to nonexistent.
“I joined Network Cork [a not for profit national organisation for women in business] and it opened up a lot of doors for me. It’s such a welcoming, supportive, collaborative space.
“My first year in business, we made no money, I just focused on growing the business and building the brand. Last year, it really started to work, we start matching prospective employees up with clients.”
When EmployMum hit the media sphere, Karen said she was hit with an “avalanche of interest” from candidates looking to re-enter the workforce. But when she realised how much time she was spending on the phone providing guidance to these women, she brought on a panel of coaches.
“I’m not a professional counsellor but, for a lot of these mothers, confidence is the main issue for them when looking for flexible work. So we refer them to our coaches, it’s all part of the holistic approach.”
The company also offers free back-to-work workshops, supported by Bank of Ireland, that aims to give candidates the practical tools to help them get back to work.
With 3,000 registered users on the site, Karen said that some of the big multinationals are among her client base, and companies are now turning to EmployMum looking for advice on how to be more flexible to attract the right talent.
With a new office in Limerick and another due to open its doors in Dublin before Christmas, Karen is in talks to secure additional funding to expand the firm and its employee base.