The parent room helping mothers to stay at work

O'Dwyer gives valedictory speech

Kelly O'Dwyer delivered her valedictory speech in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, raising concerns over the Senate and social media's influence over politics.

Andi Chatterton’s first child was born at a critical time for her tech startup. Deadlines were approaching and some of the company’s most important clients had their products launching within weeks.

“We had so much work that there wasn’t really a question, I had to be helping out,” she says.

A parenting room at co-working space WeWork allowed her to be in two places at once. She could attend meetings and oversee product development with her team while sporadically using the dimly-lit room to breastfeed her newborn.

Andi Chatterton was able to continue working days after her baby Ethan was born.
Andi Chatterton was able to continue working days after her baby Ethan was born. Photo: Jason South

“Doing things over the phone just isn’t the same,” she says.

When the busy period died down, the 33-year-old was able to take some time off but now the parent room has allowed her to return to work as she can bring baby Ethan into the office.

“I don’t just want to be a mum. I really love what I do and I don’t want to give that up.

“Too many people are put in a position where they have to choose.”

While many co-working spaces in Melbourne and Sydney offer a multipurpose "hang out" room, none contacted by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald have dedicated parenting rooms.

Chatterton and her husband, Mark, have made a consistent effort to maintain a healthy work-life balance. They live close to the city to reduce commute times and in 2017, they decided to quit their corporate roles to start their own business, inGenious AI, developing chatbots for company websites.


“Really it was a choice of flexibility for me. Being able to do something I really enjoyed and also work the hours I want to work as long as the work gets done.

“It made a lot of sense to me thinking about having a family, rather than it hanging over me that going back to work was inflexible.”

A 2018 PWC survey found nearly half of women felt nervous about what having a child would do to their career and in the wake of industrial relations minister Kelly O’Dwyer’s emotional valedictory speech this week, employment conditions for new parents has once again been put in the spotlight.

At first, Chatterton was worried about what other workers would think but having a baby in the office boosts morale.
At first, Chatterton was worried about what other workers would think but having a baby in the office boosts morale.  Photo: Jason South

Julie McKay from PwC says that parent rooms in co-working spaces are an “exciting” change in the market and one that might prompt big business to follow suit.

“When big organisations start losing top talent to small business and share-working spaces, then they will start to think about it,” says McKay, who works as PwC’s chief diversity and inclusion officer.

But her priority is to change the attitude towards part-time work arrangements, saying that research shows part-time workers are the most efficient and loyal employees.

“Smart businesses are starting to realise that if you want the most effective and efficient workplaces, you would stack it with part-timers.”

McKay says becoming a parent alters an employees capacity, not capability, and also bringing children into the workplace needs to be normalised.

“I think we need to recognise that some of our best people will have kids, and at some point those kids will need to be around the workplace.”

Erin Kefalas, director of recruitment agency JustMums Recruitment, says there is not a "one size fits all" approach to working conditions for new parents and that employers need to listen to their workers and negotiate flexible terms.

While the parenting room might be one piece of that puzzle, for Chatterton, it has been an essential part in managing the new responsibilities.

"It’s not easy, it’s hard to do both. But once we got the swing of things, you realise you can do it."