For Working Parents, Flexible Childcare Options Can Mean Staying In The Workforce

Jan 22, 2018

For Udi Hershkovich and many Pittsburgh parents, Jan. 15 posed a problem. Hershkovich and his wife were working on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but his kids, 6-year-old Idan and 3-year-old Maya, had the day off from school.

"On a day like this where there's no school, finding a sitter is tough," Hershkovich said. 

But he was in luck. His employer, a coworking space on the North Side called Alloy 26, was hosting a pop-up childcare company that day.

"It's brilliant. It allows me to get my kids out of the house without having to waste any of my work day running them to the Children's Museum, for example, across the street," Hershkovich said.

In one of Alloy 26's large conference rooms, the kids played with Magnatiles and made costumes out of construction paper. They had fun in their own space, while the parents were just around the corner.

Tiffini Simoneux, early childhood manager for the city of Pittsburgh, said childcare at work can be a lifesaver.

"In 2015, there was a report by the National Council of Economic Advisors that stated that nearly half of working parents have declined a job offer because it wasn't compatible with their family needs," Simoneaux said. "So as we're looking at retaining, really, the best staff for the city, we want to make sure we offer those services."

In the past, the city has used pop-up childcare for Rosh Hashanah and Election Day, two school holidays where parents had to work. The company the city used is the same one that took care of Udi Hershkovich's kids on MLK day: a Pittsburgh-based startup called Flexable.

The organization was founded by Priya Amin and Jessica Strong in 2016. They were working moms, but said ultimately had to make some sacrifices, in part, because flexible childcare options were not available. Both women became freelancers, but that didn't always make things easier.

Priya Amin and Jessica Strong, co-founders of the childcare pop-up organization Flexable, which has been operating in the Pittsburgh region since 2016.
Credit Courtesy of Flexable

"Both of us have struggled with childcare falling through, for example, or not being able to find childcare exactly when and where you need it," Amin said. "When we started asking friends and going beyond just our scope of understanding, we realized that this was a larger problem that affects more than just freelancers, it actually affects working parents across the board."

Amin and Strong talk about childcare as an intersection of issues, including equity, feminism and class. While they know dads have dropped off their kids with Flexable, the pair are particularly passionate about getting women back in the workforce.

They say women regularly tell them that they are the ones bearing the brunt of childcare for their families, a sentiment that can be backed up by statistics. 

According to the 2010 census, about one-third of the 900,000 working moms in Pennsylvania are single parents. Data from the Pew Research Center shows more than half of working women nationwide with kids say being moms makes it harder to advance in their careers, compared to just 16 percent of dads.

Strong said these factors guided Amin and her to decide that the cost of Flexable should be paid for by the company or the event host.

"We know if a woman wants to come to a networking night, and there's a charge to attend that professional education or professional development, to then tack on an additional fee for childcare, the burden still rests on the mom taking care of that in a lot of cases," Strong said. "Then the mom just won't come to the event."

Flexable has a team of about 20 care workers. They do pop-ups at offices and events, like weddings and late-night meetings. As long as the site has a spacious room with a lock and is safe, Amin and Strong said, that can work. 

While being a care worker for the company isn't a full-time job, Amin said it's a handy source of income with a flexible schedule, which makes the purpose of the company come full circle.

"We're on a mission to empower women, and part of that is empowering caregivers," Amin said. "All these women, they're all women right now, are mothers or nurses or teachers or students."

As their company continues to grow, Amin and Strong plan to secure benefits and steady work for these caregivers. They know that for some women, getting back in the workforce means starting with something like Flexable.