June Diane Raphael (right) and Jess Zaino (left), founders of The Jane Club: Photographed by Steven Perilloux
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Past a neighborhood spa, a cafe called “Gratitude,” and a candle shop that sells a six-ounce candle for $65 is a tree-lined street in Larchmont, a quaint, picturesque neighborhood in Los Angeles. This neighborhood’s main street is home to The Jane Club, a communal workspace aimed at women and--as I soon learn--a place where women are coming together to rewrite the rules of what's expected of a traditional workplace.
I arrive at The Jane Club on a cold rainy February afternoon. I am here to interview Jane Club co-founders Grace and Frankie actress June Diane Raphael, and Emmy nominated producer Jess Zaino. I wait on a white sofa and drink lemon water, which seems to be the official drink of The Jane Club and is readily available to anyone who walks through the front door. There is a woman curled up on the sofa across from me. She isn’t wearing any shoes, and her laptop sits perched on her lap. There is another woman in the kitchen having her nails painted and a woman on a conference call in the private office that sits right behind the white sofas.
Here are the perks of being a member of The Jane Club from what I could discern while waiting for my interview to begin: lemon water; pilates classes at 9:30 am in the back garden; someone to wash your car and someone to paint your nails; private offices with desks and communal office spaces with round tables; a childcare center that smells of lavender and where play is “based on literature”; and the opportunity to work next to the people you watch on television and read about in The Economist.
When we sit down for our interview, Zaino proclaims The Jane Club a matriarchal oasis where design is nourishment, and she asks if I understand what she means.
Yes, of course, I said (though, for the record, I am not sure I understand what “matriarchal oasis” means). But I can agree that the space is beautiful. There is a lot of natural wood and earth tones and white sofas and long stem white roses on tables. And it is feminine without being bathed in pink.
“We were focused on creating a space that was nurturing, beautiful and warm and the design plays such a huge part in that,” said Raphael. “This is what The Jane Club is about: it’s about women who are doing so much in their lives, from taking care of small children and elderly parents, to their careers. There is just so much that they are doing, so when they walk in here we wanted the design to take care of them,” she added.
The Jane Club started to take form in 2016, in the aftermath of the presidential election when Raphael and Zaino met at a progressive political women’s group. “We were grieving and processing, and it turned into a group of activists who were doing real things,” said Raphael.
She sits up straight and leans towards me, “I had also just had my second [baby], and I was struggling to find balance, which is a stupid word, but I was struggling.”
Don’t get her wrong. Raphael knows she is in a privileged position. She is on a successful television show with two feminist icons, and she has Julianna, her nanny. But when she was at work, she found herself apologizing for being a parent, and when she was at home with her children, she was apologizing for working. She looked around at the men in her life and realized that they weren’t dealing with these same things. “My husband doesn’t have the same guilt that I have,” she said. She still remembers thinking, “wow, women are meant to have it all and do it all, but no one offers solutions for how women are supposed to make having it all a reality.” Then Zaino stepped in with a solution.
“Jess came to me with this idea for creating a [work] space that you could bring your children to and I was like…[mimes her head exploding],” Raphael says as her eyes widen. “It made me cry thinking about it.”
Zaino was interested in the idea of creating a workspace where women didn’t have to pretend that their children didn’t exist. In the workplace women are rewarded for acting as if they never had children, Zaino argued. Her own experience mirrors this. “I am the breadwinner in my family, and so I had to go back to work [when my baby was] two months.”
Having just had a c-section Zaino was also reeling from postpartum anxiety and felt as if she “was in the thick of it.” But she also had to work, and so she found herself sitting in her living room across from Jasmine, her infant specialist, who was caring for the baby while Zaino was working and pretending that her life hadn’t just changed significantly.
Zaino’s story isn’t unusual for women in the United States. Currently, The Family and Medical Leave Act offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave for mothers, which can be a problem for women who have just given birth but still need to, well, earn money to survive.
When The Jane Club opened in 2018, Raphael and Zaino noticed something strange. When they built out The Nest, Jane’s childcare room, they did so with the intention of it being used to accommodate toddlers, but instead, the space was mainly occupied by small infants. “So many women have to return to work when their babies are three months [old] and [The Jane Club] is a solution for that on a micro level,” Zaino said.
The Jane Club’s executive staff is a clear example of this: “we have been able to attract high-level talent like our co-CEO’s Zoe Regan and Dori Howard because we could offer them childcare,” Raphael said. “We couldn’t pay them what they deserved to be paid, but we could offer them the experience of having their small child here...and they can breastfeed here.”
“Is this a huge lesson to corporations out there?” I ask.
Zaino smiles. “Yes, and we hope to radicalize that.” Zaino isn’t interested in waiting for the government to find a solution to better maternity benefits; she wants to work with individual corporations to take care of their employees right now.
The plan: to privatize The Jane Club as a B2B business where company campuses build up mini Jane Club’s complete with a beautiful workspace connected to a childcare center. Women would then spend a year in the onsite Jane Club transitioning back to work in a way that allows them to continue in their careers without having to deny that having a baby impacted their life.
Perhaps these perks seem over the top and I can’t deny that I inwardly rolled my eyes at the prospect of women having access to a nail salon while at work. But the reality is that if my place of work was beautifully decorated and allowed me to have my nails done while taking a conference call I would gladly spend more time in the office. Raphael argues this same point: “I could go to a gym, yes but being able to workout in [The Jane Club] garden and then shower here and then get on the phone and get to work without having to go across town is huge,” she said.
But The Jane Club is not just about the perks of childcare and an onsite gym. Raphael is quick to point out that The Jane Club is really about community and creating a village of women who support one another. In that vein, Raphael and Zaino have created “ask and give” where Jane members meet to ask for what they need (it can be as simple as a doctor recommendation or someone to proofread a piece of work) and everyone in the group has to give what is asked. To be vulnerable enough to ask for help and then see a group of women rise up to provide that helps creates authentic connection and support, Zaino believes.
And who is to say that Zaino and Raphael are wrong? Writing this, I’m hunched over my desk for the tenth hour of the day, picking at my chipped nails and wondering how I am going to find time to make it to the gym. And who is to say that the traditional office structure — the same infrastructure that was made to accommodate male employee — is right for women? Who is to say that women should have to go right back to the office three months after their babies are born so that they can pay their bills and maintain the career they have worked so hard to achieve? I can’t deny that a soft landing at The Jane Club sounds a lot better than all of that.
Our interview comes to a close and Raphael leaves to spend time with her children, and so Zaino and I sit outside near the firepit and talk for awhile. We talk about past jobs working for bosses who made our lives hell; we talk about caring for dying relatives; and we talk about how our society doesn’t value the role of caretaker. She asks me if I have children. No, I say. Because I am a freelance writer, with many stories to write before my student loans are paid off, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to write those stories with a baby next to me--let alone a screaming one.
You could have a baby and work from The Jane Club, Zaino says. We would take care of you.
Right then, “matriarchal oasis” clicks for me. It means being a person who has a career and who also has children. It means not having to put your career, your health, or your nails on hold just because you’ve had a baby. It means that if you need help, an entire village of women will be there to lend a hand.
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