Work, Life, Integration-Not Balance
Women’s Plaza: Where you don’t have to make the choice between a successful career and providing the best care for yourself and your family.
With the classic 9-to-5 on the demise as people move toward working for themselves or part-time in order to better integrate life and work balance, opportunities are created for underserved workers to expand their life options.
Founded by Glaucia Martin-Porath, the up-and-coming Women’s Plaza coworking space is scheduled to open by the end of the year. She estimates that by 2020, 40 percent of the workforce will be contract workers, according to a survey she took last summer.
“The idea came from my own suffering years of raising my children,” says Martin-Porath, mother of seven- and ten-year-old boys. “But at that time when they were little and infants, I suffered through a lot … my husband’s business wasn’t doing very well, so I provided for the family.”
The Women’s Plaza will hold collaborative workspace, private offices, childcare, on-site wellness and fitness practitioners, freshly catered and frozen take-home meals from a communal kitchen with a chef, and social and professional networking and support. There is nothing else like the Women’s Plaza in the U.S., and it isn’t exclusive: members already signed up have incomes ranging from $20,000 to $200,000.
Women can take a 30 minute yoga class, buy fresh food from the caterer in the kitchen, and take home frozen dinners and affordable family meals after a full day’s work. Yoga classes and massages will be scheduled flexibly for members.
“As a mental health therapist for over 10 years, you don’t treat one thing isolated, you need to have everything in sync in order to thrive,” says Martin-Porath. “There is no system, no structure that provides working mothers with a space to go to work where you can be at work, be close to your children while you work, and then also take care of yourself socially, emotionally, professionally and physically.”
According to her survey, women come back to work earlier if their baby is downstairs, and it’s much more economical for companies to give paid parental leave and transitional support than to train someone new, especially when she can transition right back into her work.
Martin-Porath is reaching out to progressive businesses interested in supporting workers transitioning into parenthood, and has already booked contract individuals.
Plaza is the Spanish word for square, where all the people in the community go for daily errands. Growing up in Brazil, Martin-Porath was raised by her community, a perspective individualist U.S. doesn’t share.
“I was everyone’s child, embraced, loved in community bigger than family,” says Martin-Porath.
Above all, Women’s Plaza will be a place of support for people in all areas of life, helping save time and keep healthy.
“It’s different nowadays, we are modern women. We are done with the time where women used to sit at home and wait with baked cookies for their children to come back from school,” says Martin-Porath. “That time is done, but our system and our society has not developed from that mentality to what we have nowadays, so I’m really excited to be able to provide that to women.”
Working person to working parent
Dr. Amy Beacom is the founder and CEO of the Center for Parental Leave Leadership, and a supporter of Women’s Plaza. Recently having moved to Portland, CPLL offers consulting and coaching services to companies interested in improving policies and procedures around maternity and paternity leave.
Beacom bore her first child, a son, and had her parental leave transition while she was working as an executive consultant in New York City, and also working to finish studying her doctorate at Columbia University, focusing on women’s leadership and executive coaching.
“In addition to my schoolwork, I was doing consulting work, I was doing coaching work, and I was doing real estate work on the side to make ends meet,” says Beacom.
She was the primary breadwinner. As a self-employed consultant and student, and with her husband working as their contractor, neither qualified for nor received parental leave or benefits.
Because she loved her work and had never had a child before, she naively thought she would be ready to go back to work three weeks after giving birth, but “it was not the birth I expected. And unfortunately, it was traumatic,” says Beacom.
She experienced complications from an unexpected cesarean birth (after 17 hours of natural labor), breastfeeding was in her words, “a disaster,” and she was hit with postpartum depression that turned into postpartum psychosis. But if she didn’t go back to work on time, her family wouldn’t make their mortgage payment.
“He was one week old and I was trying to survive. My only thought as I tried to nurse or pump in the middle of the night, tears streaming down my face was, “What can I do to make sure no other woman has to go through what I am going through right now? What can I do to make sure they have a realistic and supported transition plan?” recollects Beacom.
With that thought, she envisioned a new field she called Maternity Coaching, a type of executive coaching designed and defined through her doctoral work.
“Historically, maternity leave has been seen as a time out of one’s career; a missed opportunity; a negative impact, when it can be the exact opposite if done well,” says Beacom.
Now, she advises companies and their valuable employees, it’s not a time out, it’s an opportunity to navigate new terrain, embed new leadership skills, and decide what you want your career to look like, and what you want your parenthood to look like.
“Everybody needs help when navigating a major life transition. There’s executive coaching for moving up in roles or transitioning to another company, but nothing when it comes to the biggest career transition of all — moving from a working person to a working parent.”
In her work she has seen, parenting increases leadership skills and abilities. “It’s simple. Engaged parents make better bosses.” says Beacom.
She kept her 503 Portland phone number for 14 years while living in New York City, always intending to return to Portland to raise her kids.
“We have an opening here that does not exist on the East Coast. People here in decision-making roles have the space to enact it (parental leave policies) that doesn’t exist in New York,” says Beacom. “Here, people are willing to take risks to check if it impacts the bottom line, because Portland people, part of the identity is to take risks, be on the fringe.”
“We have an opportunity here in Oregon that does not exist in New York. Like New Yorkers, Oregonians will work hard, but we have very little patience for a life that doesn’t include time to enjoy the fruits of our labor,” says Beacom.
“Here, top leadership in decision-making roles have the foresight, support, guts, and resources to enact cutting edge parental leave policies that will lead this country.” says Beacom, adding, “I couldn’t be happier to be home.”
An impossible balance
Family Forward Oregon, the nonprofit that pushed for Oregon’s recent paid sick days legislation, is a supporter of Women’s Plaza. The two organizations support each other’s missions.
Ashnie Butler, outreach director at FFO, has a background organizing childcare for labor unions.
Butler took seven years out of the workforce to raise her daughter. She moved to Portland to come back into the workforce. She says, “Being stay-at-home mom, it’s awesome and it’s also challenging.”
“Going from 150 percent to 150 percent in a different way, it’s really important to take time to stay with my daughter, but that’s not really a choice for everyone. Some people can’t afford it.”
Her championing work is teaching people there’s another way to live. People can take off time to take care of themselves and their children and don’t have to lose wages.
“There are all things that aren’t so unattainable; these are things that a lot of other countries have,” says Butler, but that “Man working, woman at home doesn’t work anymore. The nuclear family is not feasible.”
If single moms stay at home, they lose out on wages. Childcare is expensive, but moms aren’t given back that economic benefit. Nationally and statewide, only 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave is given, ensuring your job upon your return.
“She’s looked over for promotions, she takes six weeks off, she takes more time off, she loses retirement, she keeps falling behind,” says Butler. “A woman loses out because we’re busy.”
“The leading indicator of poverty is motherhood,” says Butler. “For me personally, I want my daughter with me.” And that’s the choice given to most mothers.
“A combination of issues tied together to create this (gender gap); you can’t isolate one to solve it. Paid sick days won’t give her childcare or retirement. The key is to recognize all the issues.”
“Put people in office. It’s policy changes that will do this,” advocated Butler. “Children being hungry is not the child’s fault, it’s policies. Policies around affordable childcare, retirement security.”
One positive transition
For Kate Kilberg, attorney and partner at Catalyst Law LLC, and partner with Women’s Plaza, two months of maternity leave was enough, even though she was finishing grad school in D.C.
“For me and my personality, I was itching to go back (to work),” says Kilberg. “I get to put on makeup and be a grownup.”
Though having her first child was a huge adjustment, Kilberg hired a nanny when her son was six weeks old.
“I was happy to be back at work, but when I cut back my time in the office, it did wear on my employers’ nerves,” says Kilberg. She stayed for parent circle time at the preschool, not arriving in the office until 9:30. “I never would have made partner in D.C.”
Kilberg’s husband is also a lawyer working full-time, and would come home for one hour in the evening to put the boy to bed. With their second son, he took full paternity leave.
“It’s an exaggeration but it felt like I saw him 20 minutes a day,” says Kilberg. “I wanted to have a meaningful relationship with my spouse.”
For their second son, Kilberg took a year doing contract work from home. Her mom friends had side jobs, but she struggled to find friends who cared about their careers and also about their personal lives, and struggled to find the time to find these women.
“A steady paycheck is nice but I would choose this 10 times over. I can see my kids … work at night.”