Making space for family and work | Local News

By equipping the coworking space she is designing at 11 N. Ellsworth Ave. with colorful decor, stuffed animals adorning comfortable seating and toy trains and kitchen appliances, San Mateo resident Katie Carlin isn’t trying to fit the building she is renovating into the mold of a traditional office space.

A mother of three herself, the 42-year-old is well aware that seating where parents can read to their children and a lounge where mothers can nurse infants are commonly sought after but not always found in today’s office settings. But she is hoping to offer working parents another way of balancing work and caring for their kids, one that doesn’t force them to choose between the two.

Having juggled the start of her career as a lawyer and raising her children, Carlin weighed the trade-off between forging a bond with her young children and advancing her career. Though she worked on regulatory cases as an associate at a law firm, Carlin found juggling her work at the firm with child care to be untenable. She said she left the firm and applied her legal background to sustainable building and human rights projects as well as working as a general counsel and contracts attorney for small startups, describing the roles as “anything I could do and still be a mom at the same time.”

Now that her children are at or nearing college age, Carlin has turned her focus to designing a workspace aimed at making it possible for parents to build careers while caring for their children, an environment she doesn’t feel was available to her as she was starting out as an attorney and a mother. Carlin has designed the 6,100 square feet in two two-story buildings a short walk from San Mateo’s downtown Caltrain station to include 1,400 square feet of child care space, open coworking space, private offices, common areas and a lounge for nursing mothers.

“This is my idea for how to impact the lives of working mothers in a way that feels empowering and like I’m actually doing something about the problem,” she said, noting many offices today aren’t designed with working parents in mind. “I feel like there’s a really strange and artificial distinction between the workplace and family life.”

Since last fall, Carlin has been focused on designing a space appealing to both children and working professionals. Slated to open Aug. 13, the space will feature imaginative decor with natural lighting and interactive games and toys in the dedicated child care space. Because many professionals may only need a place to work for a day or two, Carlin is hoping an open coworking space with desks for some 25 professionals and three private offices can provide space for up to 50 families.

Dubbed The Garden by Equal Play, Carlin’s project is one among many coworking spaces coming online in San Mateo this year. With locations in San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley, the coworking space company WeWork is set to make 1,650 desks available at a four-story office building at 400 Concar Drive in December. Owned by the International Workplace Group, the company Spaces opened 31,600 square feet of coworking space and shared offices at the four-story Clocktower building at 3 E. Third Ave. in April.

Equipped with amenities such as a family dining space, small outdoor deck, meeting rooms and a lounge where mothers can nurse their infants or parents can take naps, the space will allow parents to cut down on the time they spend driving to drop their kids off at child care and also worry less about how their kids are doing while they’re working, said Carlin.

“What I hope is that the people who actually work here in the space will be able to focus better, work more efficiently, feel supported and be more successful,” she said. “I hope that people will be economically empowered working here.”

Having earned a master’s degree in decision science last year, Carlin said she has studied the gender wage gap after wondering for years how the burden placed on women to balance child care and work can be eased. Noting tech giants like Facebook offer their employees dog daycare and not child care, Carlin said even those parents whose employers include child care as a benefit face long wait lists and high costs.

“We’re kind of OK with it because we don’t think there’s a better option,” she said. “I’m trying to create a better option and show that it can work in any workplace.”

With a strong belief that parents who know their child is thriving have a better chance to focus on work, Carlin has hired caregivers who can provide care to children at a wide range of ages, whether they are not yet enrolled in school or at home when schools are not in session. By hiring caregivers with college degrees, paying them $26 an hour and providing them with benefits, Carlin is hoping to address the issue of child care providers being underpaid and undervalued.

Though the project has required Carlin to take countless trips to stores to perfect the decor of the rooms of the buildings, she said the excitement of seeing parents and children using the space in the coming weeks has been worth the effort.

“It’s kind of a dream,” she said. “Just imagining how you can make a day perfect for a little kid, it’s really fun.”

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