Could Coworking with Childcare Topple the Maternal Wall? This Bay Area Entrepreneur Thinks So.

CEO Katie Carlin is a little bit proud of the play space at her San Mateo–based coworking space The Garden. Photo by Jouko van der Kruijssen

CEO Katie Carlin founded Equal Play as a response to a personal and professional quest: to help working families have more. The national conversation about women and work has often centered around this infuriating and impossible question of whether women can “have it all” or whether they’ve achieved “balance.” For too many of us, balance means not falling over while we juggle a laptop and a basket of clean clothes, sidestepping an errant LEGO at 10pm on a school night. Working mothers in America are overworked and underslept, in the midst of a decades-long struggle to figure out how to be all things to all people, all the time.

This reality was all too familiar for Katie, who was the primary caregiver for her two young sons while she attended law school and worked as an associate at a San Francisco law firm. Katie says she found herself believing that her struggle to be both ambitious professionally and available to provide for her boys’ intellectual and emotional development was her problem: if she just worked harder, or made the right trade-offs, maybe she could do all of these things. But she found it nearly impossible to work the kind of hours demanded by a typical law firm and still parent in a way that felt both joyful and impactful.

This, Katie realized, was why so many bright and ambitious women turned away from their careers after the births of their children rather than battling their way back into the professional world after maternity leave. It was also why the women who did return to work often made the kinds of career choices that felt okay in the short term but that didn’t maximize income generation, let alone ensure long-term career fulfillment.

By 2017, while earning a Master’s degree in Decision Science (by which time she had a third teenager living in her house), Katie had hit upon an idea that she hoped could lessen maternity attrition from the workforce. She founded Equal Play, Inc., in 2018 and began to create “The Garden” — a coworking space where working parents could focus on their professional growth while skilled caregivers nurtured and tended to their young children.

Today The Garden is up and running. We’re offering an empowering, supportive coworking space for parents in San Mateo, California that also provides high-quality on-site childcare. Sound simple? Perhaps, but it’s also shockingly rare, even in the Bay Area, a mecca for coworking and other flexible work arrangements (and where the cost of living means that in most two-parent households, both parents work full time).

We are two months in and starting to fill up with relieved parents whose encouragement for our vision and gratitude for our efforts make these long days fun and rewarding. At The Garden, parents drop off their kids in a light-filled childcare room downstairs, staffed by highly qualified caregivers, then proceed to the coworking space upstairs. The office has all the amenities, including conference rooms, private offices, and excellent coffee and tea (essential!). And unlike many other coworking spaces, ours includes a pumping room/nursing lounge and a cafeteria. These make possible the most important feature of all: opportunities, throughout the day, for parents and children to interact.

Tien Teng, the marvelous Head of Caregiving at Equal Play, connects with a young customer. Photo by Jouko van der Kruijssen

The Garden might not solve every problem, but it is our hope that the working mothers and fathers who choose this coworking space will find themselves more fulfilled at work, more fulfilled in their relationships with their kids, and, most important, a little more in control of their lives at the end of the day. With childcare and work at the same site, parents eliminate stressful daycare drop-offs and pick-ups. Parents also worry less: is the baby happy? Is she eating? Here at The Garden you can join her for lunch, or pop in to nurse or snuggle. You’re in the same building, so you know she’s thriving.

Most of all, we hope that The Garden takes one small step toward creating equity on the home front. Part of the great challenge for many working mothers in relationships with men has been the inflexibility of their partners’ working lives. Let’s face it: in order for many families to function, one parent needs, simply, to work a little less. For a host of reasons, Dads have not traditionally been the ones to take the career backseat. But with childcare drop-offs and pick-ups eliminated, and partnerships with local meal-prep services coming down the pike, it just might be Dad who makes it home first from The Garden and has dinner waiting when Mom rolls in from the office.

We’re excited to provide a valuable piece to the puzzle that is the working parent’s life, and a more family-friendly option for Bay Area coworkers. We know that by making available excellent, well-paid, on-site childcare to working parents that we’re doing something revolutionary: making sure that everyone grows.

We’ll be blogging regularly about the goings on at The Garden, sharing tidbits of wisdom from our childcare staff and delving deeper into why it’s important to pay childcare workers a living wage. Thanks for being on this journey with us. We hope to see you at The Garden soon!

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The Garden by Equal Play

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Equal Play provides working parents access to flexible, professional coworking spaces with on-site childcare. Come visit us at The Garden, where everyone grows.