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Female-focused co-working spaces offer career and child-care help still lacking in many traditional workplaces
By Michael Chandler
February 21, 2018 at 12:08 PM EST
The booming co-working industry, launched to accommodate the increasing number of entrepreneurs and corporate employees who work remotely, is now tailoring itself for women by offering workspaces with female-focused networking and career seminars.
Increasingly, these workspaces, as well as those that cater to all working parents, are also offering child care, a service still lacking in many of America’s workplaces.
About half a dozen co-working spaces are slated to open or expand this year in the District and Northern Virginia, offering services specific to women or child care. They include the Wing, a trendy, all-female co-working space and social club in Manhattan that is expanding to the District in April with a 10,000-square-foot space in Georgetown. Another — Play, Work or Dash, a co-working space with child care in Vienna, Va. — recently doubled in size. The District is also home to Hera Hub, which advertises a “professional, productive, spalike environment” for women.
Nationally, co-working spaces for women have opened in cities including St. Louis, which boasts the Rise Collaborative Workspace for female entrepreneurs, and in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City, where members of Quilt take turns hosting workshops or co-working sessions in their homes.
“These entrepreneurs realize a gap in the system and they are supplying it,” said Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research institute based in New York City.
Women’s co-working spaces are ascending in a year when women’s activism is at a height, and new attention is being paid to workplace issues such as sexual harassment and equal pay.
Support for working mothers — who still bear the brunt of child care — is especially inadequate, Galinsky said. International rankings show the United States as falling behind most developed countries in providing child care, parental leave and sick leave to parents.
Just 7 percent of traditional employers provide child care at or near the workplace, and 5 percent offer backup care when their employees’ child-care arrangements fall through, according to a 2016 national study of employers released by the Society for Human Resource Management.
Co-working spaces can provide some promising solutions, experts say, but their impact is likely to be limited to those in professional jobs.
“By leaving this problem to the market, the market is rewarding those at the top, and not paying enough attention to millions of other workers who need this,” said Heather Boushey, director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
The Wing, whose first space in Manhattan opened late last year, largely serves young professional women. The company has 2,000 members in two New York City locations and applications from about 13,000 people. Co-founder Audrey Gelman said that about half of the members are freelancers or entrepreneurs; others hold more traditional jobs.
Like most female-oriented co-working spaces, the Wing offers professional help through salary-negotiation training and meetups for women from different industries. It hosts programs on nutrition and wellness, the anxiety of infertility and other “modern struggles that come along with being a woman in 2018,” Gelman said.
Many of the Wing’s members are new mothers, and the business is looking “very closely” at offering child care, said Gelman, whose co-founder, Lauren Kassan, just had a baby. “We are experiencing, for the first time, all the challenges that working moms face,” she said.
Nicole Dash’s frustrations with inflexible work schedules and limited child-care options as a working mother eventually prompted her to open Play, Work or Dash in 2016, in a two-story townhouse near Tysons Corner.
Dash left her career in marketing after she had children, tired of the long commutes, missed developmental milestones and a boss who advised her to “tone down the mommy talk.”
For a decade, she ran a home day-care center, where she could earn an income while staying close to her four children.
During that time, Dash connected with a community of women who were working around nap time and school schedules — and often late into the night.
As opportunities to work at home with flexible hours have grown, she realized there was a pent-up demand for co-working spaces with on-site child care, where parents could squeeze in more working hours, including on random teacher work days and snow days.
Play, Work or Dash’s mostly female Virginia clientele comes from as far as Gainesville and Winchester, Dash said. Workers can lease a private office for a year or rent a conference room by the hour so they can meet with a prospective client somewhere other than Starbucks or a toy-cluttered living room.
Dash said that her business has grown every month since she opened. In January, she expanded into the townhouse next door.
A working model
Co-working, with on-site child care, is “such a good idea” that one of the earliest co-working spaces in the United States offered it, said Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research, which tracks the co-working industry. Cubes & Crayons opened in 2008 in Mountain View, Calif., but only lasted about 18 months, he said. Many subsequent attempts also failed.
The main challenge has been to marry a loosely regulated industry with a highly regulated one, and finding the expertise and management to oversee both effectively.
But in the past year, King said, the model has started to take off.
While some co-working spaces cater primarily to women, many are opening doors wide to this generation of new fathers who are playing a larger role in caregiving.
Workafrolic is scheduled to open in Northeast Washington in a converted rowhouse in Eckington later this month. Founder Naomi Rasmussen said that, so far, more men have signed up as members.
Rasmussen said she was working in international development when she had a baby, and worked at home part-time for a while, but felt unproductive. She hired a nanny and went back to work full time. “Then I never saw my son,” she said. So she quit her job to start this business.
Her space will limit the amount of time children can be in care to three continuous hours, though they can leave for a half-hour and come back for another three hours. Play, Work or Dash limits child care to a total of three hours per day. That way, the owners say, they fall under the same regulations as child-care centers at gyms, with fewer standards to meet.
Hatch co-founders Kelsey Lents and JP Coakley met as business students at Georgetown University. Both had babies while in the master’s of business administration program there, and they found the search for child care frustrating.
“Child care still exists in a traditional working culture: Drop your kid off in the morning, go to an office, at the end of the day pick up your kid,” Lents said.
She said that Hatch wants to build a community for mothers and fathers, many of whom feel cut off from professional networks, and “pioneer this new idea of working parenthood.” Their co-working space, which is likely to open in upper Northwest Washington in the fall, will have full-day, licensed child care.
Lents, a trained architect, is handling the blueprints; her partner, a former auditor who worked in the hyper-regulated nuclear power industry, will make sure the child-care center is up to code.
They are charging $2,100 a month for full-time child care, about $250 more than the average cost for infant care at a child-care center in the District. Half-time child care will cost $1,200 a month. For parents, monthly costs start at $300 a month for a shared desk. At Play, Work or Dash, nonmembers pay a drop-in fee of $26 per 90-minute session, which Dash says is competitive with the cost of hiring a babysitter.
By midmorning on a recent Monday, a half-dozen children were upending boxes of Legos and pushing trucks across the floor while an airy workspace next door was library quiet, with parents laser-focused on their laptops.
Downstairs, Ezra Rosser, a law professor at American University, was preparing for a faculty meeting. He said he brings his son to the co-working space twice a week so that his wife can work at home without distractions.
Sadie Rose-Stern arrived in a sweat midmorning, after driving 45 minutes from Hyattsville, Md., with her 13-month-old in tow.
“Please, God, tell me you have room for my daughter,” she recalled telling them at the front desk.
Her wife was home sick, possibly with the flu, and the public relations specialist felt desperation. She had a major news conference to prepare for, including a key planning conference call later that morning.