Shazia Mustafa: Work Like A Woman – Traditional Roles, Childcare, And Privilege

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For this episode, we welcome back Shazia Mustafa of Third Door Coworking. It is a family-friendly coworking space that also has an Ofsted-registered Nursery on-site, Third Door.

Third Door was founded on the conviction that it is possible to thrive in your profession and spend quality time with your children at the same time. 
We are going to talk about the Mary Portas’ book: Work Like A Woman: A Manifesto for Change and the Coworking Idea Project challenge for this month.

We also deep-dive into the world of working parents – especially women, childcare, and privilege.

That also comes with traditional roles, and how equality and inclusivity in workspaces can make it easier for women. 

How do you think coworking and childcare could go forward?

It’s just got it just going back to the Coworking and childcare. I think for me, going forward, I think there’s a still a huge opportunity to have the childcare aspect to a lot more Coworking spaces.

But it isn’t enough.¬†
As I’ve already mentioned, it just stick the childcare facility on, it’s got it, we can’t build a room with a Coworking thing you need to have a proper witness. I know in the UK, there’s so much legislation.

And I know as a mom, I don’t want my children in a room and they’re just playing with two, I want them to be educated. And that’s what a lot of parents want.¬†
I want them to be around people who care about their career and want to help children and, and, and also want, I think, around that you need to have lots of care for the actual working moms themselves and realise that they’re doing a lot of unpaid work.

You know, it always falls on women’s shoulders. So there is a lot around unpaid care.¬†
And these traditional roles and and the conversations that we’re all having at the moment, especially post pandemic is that it does need to be equal.

We need to start somewhere. It’s not going to be everywhere at the moment but within our Coworking world and how people are currently working with so many from home, we need to help with people who are parents to to have more quality, whether it’s so that they can both work well.¬†
It’s more quality at all. And I think Coworking is the place for that. To really, really help them.


Shazia on LinkedIn

Shazia on Twitter

Third Door on LinkedIn

Third Door on Twitter

The Coworking Idea Project

Work Like a Woman: A Manifesto For Change by Mary Portas

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Bernie J Mitchel  0:21  

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this week’s Coworking Values Podcast. I am over the moon because in the studio today is Shazia Mustafa, the OG of coworking and childcare. I’ve given away my line there but, Shazia, what are you known for and what would you like to be known for?


Shazia  0:39  

I’m Shazia, I serve at Third Door and back in 2008 is when I had the idea for coworking and childcare, and we launched in 2010. I’ve gotten known for coworking¬† and childcare for being one of the first in the world to open. What I’d like to get more known for is really changing how workspaces are for working mothers, working women, and making sure that we’re looking at the inclusivity as a woman’s role changes over the years.¬†


Bernie J Mitchel  1:18  

I don’t know where to begin because, folks, me and Shazia probably recommend each other about 10 books a week to read, along with a lot of you who have been on this podcast. In the¬† last five years, my mind has been blown. I’ve always thought I was quite well informed, but I’ve realized how uninformed I am. This inclusivity equity conversation, I first got involved in it and coworking from about 2014/15 at Coworking Europe. There was a very small room or unconference session called Diversity and Inclusion in Coworking, I went to that, and it’s just grown from there. So, a lot of the Coworking IDEA project which Shazia is leading this month has come from people in the industry gathering around that. And I think one of the things that I find terrifying, and has been pointed out to me more and more is, speaking as a white man, I’m starting to notice how many white men show up anywhere. And in Mary Porter’s book, which we’ll put a link in the show notes, that we both read this week, where she talks about work like a woman, is that alpha male thing going on.¬†


Shazia  3:03  

So, the book by Mary Porter, I’m a huge fan of hers, she just talks about that when she went into her career, she had to adapt to the whole alpha male persona and became this alpha woman but acting like a man. When she became a mom, she still carried on working that way There are phrases like, “when you work, you pretended like you’re not a mom”, “When you’re a mum, pretend like you’re not working”, and there’s this entire pressure that falls on the heads of working moms as well on their shoulders in terms of having mental load and all the things that you need to carry at all. And women just fall into their traditional roles, just as you become a mom, you start taking more of the housework and all the home keep care, and managing your children, and schoolwork. And not as much for men, and she’s just saying, actually the entire culture needs to change. And if you’re working like a woman, what does that exactly mean when you’re bringing the softness of being a woman into work. You have to be that alpha male. And is there anything else you want to add to that, Bernie?


Bernie J Mitchel  4:36  

I’ve always taken our son to school and nursery and picking him up and stuff like that. And particularly over lockdown because my wife works in the NHS, so she had to work every day pretty much, it was supposed to be nine to five, but it was eight till seven every day. So, when all the Breakfast Club and everything was shot, it was up to me to¬† take super son to school and pick him up. And because she’s a key worker, even though schools closed. The first thing I thought is if he hadn’t gone to school as a key worker child, my life would have been over, and I know so many people listening to this who have been home-schooling for the whole lockdown. And as I was setting off every day I was like, oh my God, how am I going to get my work done? I’ve got to take him. And then it occurred to me, that this is what loads of women I know do.

As a society we sleepwalk into women doing all that child carrying stuff. I think one of the reasons we want to do this challenge is to start a conversation around or bring the conversation that‚Äôs already happening into the coworking universe, about how the world of work and the future of work occurs for everybody, and particularly women. Because one of the things we’re talking about a lot is post-pandemic, whenever that ends, there’s been this massive, I hate using the word disruption, and people have stopped commuting, and the whole world of work and future work has just been accelerated by a decade, and we can either set it up as going back to what we were doing before, or we can, as a group of people set out a new thing.

¬†And the Women Who Cowork people say we’re building a new industry with coworking or flexi work, and whatever you want to call it. We can either set up as archaic infrastructure like we did before, or we can choose a path, and that’s why we’re here. We talked about this a lot, people say, let’s have a coworking space and let’s pop a childcare thing in there, and it’s not as simple as that. Listening to you over the years talk about this it’s not like opening a cafe in your coworking space, there’s a lot more to consider there, design wise, and also emotional wellbeing wise, so, can you say a bit about that?


Shazia  7:53  

Let me go back to why I set it up in the first place, I think that might help set up this conversation. So, I was a brand-new mom, I just had my eldest, who’s now coming up to 14, this is how long ago. And I’d gone from working at a corporate, very independent. I had my little baby and just gone, “oh my God”, I would read all the books, I’ve been on NCT classes, and¬† I still wasn’t prepared for the sleepless nights, the fact that I just felt not myself afterwards. Honestly, I was a complete mess. I remember thinking I can’t imagine coming back to work, but I want to work, I know I want to work. I just can’t imagine not working, but what could we do? My daughter was five months old; they were awake, and they were crying, the attention span was so small, we need to change the nappies. I was nursing at the time, and we would get them to sleep to just go out for a walk, hopefully they fall asleep so we can at least have an uninterrupted chat, and it just didn’t happen.¬†

And as a result of that I remember just saying wouldn’t it be great if we could just go somewhere where we can work and our babies are nearby, but we’ve got uninterrupted time. And so, that’s literally where the idea came from, and then I started doing research and these new things from America called coworking came in and I just realized there’s no flexibility in childcare, which is why we set the flexible nursery in the end. So, when we were designing it, it was very much thinking we want something for both mums and dads.¬†

Basically, we were looking for peace of mind, and that was all in our marketing copy. But now fast forward 12/13 years ,we are talking about one’s mental wellbeing, that they’re in a place where they know that their child’s nearby, is being looked after, is in a place where they’re learning. Also, their own mental wellbeing, that they’re surrounded by like-minded people who are other parents who can talk about what it’s like, who can understand what it’s like to be sleep deprived. Those type of conversations, but also they’re in a space where they’re not penalized for talking about their children, but they are still professionals that could still have their own identities, that’s very much where we were coming from at the time. Now I realize it really was all about mental wellbeing, so that’s quite a big thing. And in answer to your question, what I’ve learned over the years is that we always designed the coworking and the nurseries in one.

They were very much integrated, but what I’ve seen over the years in terms of other people talking about it, even things from what we’re doing is that it’s an add on, and I don’t think you ever thought that you can have a workplace or a coworking space and just have a nursery and say alright here we’ve got a solution for all your working mums. There’s going to be so much more thought about that. You’ve got to think how the staff are looked after, who the staff are, and their wellbeing, and the education of the children. So, it’s not just a drop-in childcare service, you actually think about having the children in there from zero to whatever age that they end up leaving. And then you’ve got to think about all the events for the parents, you’ve got to think about events for them that are around the different stages of being a parent.¬†


Bernie J Mitchel  13:30  

Well, absolutely. So, there’s something about being a working parent, and when our son was born, or one of the reasons I never made it to Third Door, which I definitely thought about is because it was so far. When our son was born he went to nursery three days a week, and then I had him one day a week and Lorraine had him one day a week. We were in a position to be able to do that, and we wanted to make sure we both had enough time with him. And it wasn’t just in a nursery five days a week, which is what most people end up doing. And I thought on Thursdays, it’d be really fun to come across the Third Door, because then he‚Äôd be with me, and I really liked the idea of that.¬†


Shazia  15:37  

Talking about women having children. It’s not the physical having children that really affects women’s careers, it’s just because it ends up being the main carer. And the chances of many women progressing, and forging their careers and earning, and that gender pay gap comes in. And I think the more that can be done. Thinking about parents, which is what we did designed ours so that, yes, it was a safe space for working moms to be, but it’s very inclusive and welcoming to working dads. We had loads of working dads use our space and they always felt very welcomed. So, I think designing spaces, that’s where we did really well. The ethos was about working parents, and not just saying, okay you’re a working mom so you must come to Third Door. I know from the outside when people were recommending us, despite all our marketing, people just automatically think if you’ve got a childcare facility, it’s not that professional. We did have that over the years.


Bernie J Mitchel  17:36  

Something that constantly amazes me is that people, people talk about challenging the status quo and innovation and everything but as soon as it goes. I’m sick to the back teeth of hearing about how amazing Richard Branson is, but he did try a lot of things and everyone that popped into my mind is a white male. All these people that try things, and we love them, but we’re unwilling to try them ourselves. So, having a childcare thing, I would have loved that. That would have really worked for me. But the way people say it’s a mummified environment, I don’t know what those people meant when they said that but it’s degrading the whole thing.


Shazia  18:41  

Just going back to the coworking in childcare, I think for me, going forward, I think there’s a still a huge opportunity to have the childcare sector in a lot more coworking spaces. But it isn’t enough, as I’ve already mentioned to just stick the childcare facility on. I know in the UK, there’s so much legislation, and I know as a mom I don’t want my children in a room just playing, I want them to be educated and that’s what a lot of parents want. I want them to be around people who care about their career and want to help children and I think around that, you need to have lots of care for the actual working moms themselves. Realize that they’re doing a lot of unpaid work. It always falls on women’s shoulders so, there is a lot around unpaid care, and these traditional roles. The conversations that we’re all having at the moment especially post-pandemic is that it does need to be equal. It needs to start somewhere. It’s not going to be everywhere at the moment but within our coworking world, and how people are currently working with so many from home, we need to help with people who are parents to have more quality, that will work well with more quality at all.¬†


Bernie J Mitchel  20:20  

Something that’s been a constant conversation and now particularly, Town Square have talked about is what if we could all walk to work, which we’ll put a link in the podcast. And what I would like to see, and it doesn’t have to be called coworking. As it’s gone on, I really like the idea of the neighborhood workspace and that type of terminology. But it’s got to be something that people outside our little bubble understand, it’s having a place where people can go and work in their local area, where they can also take their child.¬†

Like in Norway, the school is the center of the town, or village, or wherever it is because everyone invests in the education of the children because they know they’re the future of the country, or the future of the local area. Here in sunny Ilford, if I was a new dad, and I could bring my son to a childcare facility in this building that was part of what was going on, not just a rented booth. That would¬† give me more time. And also,¬† we’d be connected with people around us. Something we found very hard was finding other parents in our area, at our stage. And when you’re a young mom, you might only know people that you meet, like doctors or something, or a topless club. I imagine it’s quite a lonely experience being a new parent unless you’ve set yourself up for it. Is that right?


Shazia  22:08  

Yeah. So many new apps that are opening for parents to connect with each other.¬† There’s Mash,¬† there’s one for single parents called Followed. They are set up on the premise that people want to meet similar families in the system. It’s hard to meet them unless you meet through your child’s nursery or through NCT. A lot of people make friends once a child reaches school. But if you’re new to an area it’s really hard, especially as a new parent.


Bernie J Mitchel  22:51  

When my best mate who lives about 15 minutes away from me, had his children, they had twins nearly exactly the same time as our son was born, so that was us organized really well. That was probably one of the best time things in our life. I like to finish on is the, is something about the. I’m not sure how to frame the question folks so apologize, but the cynic around childcare and privilege, and the money thing in it in the UK where we’re talking from is really expensive. And a lot of places I see are the more affluent coworking or office spaces. And I just believe that that misses our whole section of society who would want to start something more. There’s a recession coming, more and more people are going to be either accidental entrepreneurs as Jeannine says or forced into finding a way to make a living and then starting their own business, whether that’s a YouTube channel or consultancy. Can you give me a little bit of comment on that to close?


Shazia  24:15  

You’re right, childcare in the UK is very expensive, there are two reasons why we went down the flexible childcare, one was to make it affordable, but also a premise that to spend more quality time with your child and to be focused on your work when you’re working in turn to be a really good parent when you’re parenting. What I thought is that even before the pandemic, nurseries in the more disadvantaged areas were closing anyway and now that’s accelerated, and the people who can’t afford the childcare are the middle-class families who can’t afford it.¬†

More nurseries are being designed around that clientele and charging them even more money to make your childcare even more expensive to those on lower incomes, and then the ironic thing is that the people that do working, especially in London in the childcare industry, in nurseries tend to be women of colour. And a lot of them are on minimum wage, and that doesn’t sit well with me either. So, how do we make our coworking spaces and workplace nurseries more inclusive, more affordable. And really thinking about the staff that we’re hiring so that we’re not paying them minimum wage so that they can work and look after someone else’s children, so that the rich can get richer.

I know that’s coming from a very much of a socialist point of view, but I just think unless we do something about that, we’re just going to keep on talking about this for another 10/20 years. And I really think that the coworking industry is in the right place when it comes to where we started forming collaboration and community work to really help solve this problem and make it more inclusive to all demographics and not keeping towards one particular demographic, and that’s what I think.


Bernie J Mitchel  26:25  

That’s why we love you. I’ve got loads more to add to that. We’re going to finish on that note because we’re going to publish this ahead, and this is part of the content for the Coworking Idea Project, we’ll be talking about this all through September. Please make sure you get in touch with us on and sign up for the newsletter which will be coming out every week again after our summer recess. And where’s the best place to find you online, Shazia?


Shazia  26:55  

Best place to find me online at the moment is LinkedIn. 


Bernie J Mitchel  27:00  

Thank you very much for your time today. Take care, folks. Stay safe, and be careful out there, it is a jungle.

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