The green sofa in the corner of the room does not stand out in any way.
The Indian tent that stands next to the sofa possibly stands out a little more. The walls in the room room are not adorned by research posters showing the state of different nanoparticles, but by drawings of rainbows and unicorns, signed by Sara, Hannah and Tiahana.
At the end of 2021, the Department of Microtechnology and Nanoscience, MC2's, family room was officially inaugurated. What used to be an anonymous room intended for a few minutes of coffee with colleagues, is now instead decorated with bookshelves filled with games and toys. A toy kitchen made out of wood and a rugged colorful plastic rug on the floor tells us that this is no ordinary office or staff space. In one of the corners of the room there is a desk with a computer screen where a visitor can plug in and work, but there is no doubt that the room has been decorated primarily for a younger group to thrive there.
A room with a lot of possibilites
As an employee of MC2 – or the Department of Physics, who is involved in sharing the space – the staff can book the room, bring their child there, and work there while the child can play with games and toys. The room is also available for use for visiting employees or speakers at seminars who travel to Gothenburg with their children, and it can also be used if an employee needs to have external babysitting during working hours.
So where did the idea for a family room come from?
“From a need”, says Janine Splettstößer and smiles.
She is a professor of theoretical physics at MC2, parent of three children, and now also "mother" of the department’s family room.
"My husband and me are both researchers and being parents of young children can sometimes make it difficult to organize everyday life”, she says. “Previously, I had a blanket on the floor of my office where my kids could play if I brought them to work. The collegaues and the working place were always understanding, but it is still not that easy and it also becomes a bit boring for the children.”
Genie gave the green light
When Chalmers’ foundation initiative Genie, which works to make Chalmers a more equal working place, made an internal call in autumn of 2019 for Chalmers researchers to apply for funding for projects that would strengthen gender equality at Chalmers, Janine Splettstößer seized the opportunity. At a visit at the Technical University of Münich in Münich, she had noted that there was a room intended for staff where they could leave their children. Would it be possible to do something similar at Chalmers?
"I asked the head of my department, Mikael, if he thought it was a good idea to do if we could find a suitable room, and he said yes. So I went ahead and applied and got money from Genie, and then it took some time for us to find a room. Mikael has been a great support in this work – without him there would have been nothing with this”, she says.
For Mikael Fogelström, head of department at MC2, the family room is a great example of how employees identify and communicate a need in the organization.
"Janine has been very clear that it must be possible to be able to have a career as a researcher and to be a parent at the same time. Children may need to be at their parents’ workplace for a variety of reasons, and an initiative like this can make life a little easier for all employees who have children of different ages," he says.
Community building factor
He emphasizes how a family room also serves as a community building factor for the department, the fact that it can lead to staff being able to meet other staff who are in the same situation, being a help to build networks both inside and outside the workplace.
"To be a researcher is to work in a very international environment, and it is not always easy to be a new member of a society. Such an initiative as the family room can bring people in the same situation together. If I feel that others are struggling the same way as I do, it can make the burden feel easier to carry”, he says.
Maria Saline is the coordinator of Genie. She says it was an quick and easy decision deciding on supporting the building of a family room.
An application that stood out
"Janine's application stood out and therefore got in the spotlight," she says. “We liked that it was a different approach than most of the other applications, and the purpose from Genie's point of view was to support as many different kinds of equality approving ideas as possible.”
But even if the support for a family room was an obvious thing for Genie, Maria Saline does not see the issue as completely unproblematic. Having access to a family room can of course make everyday life easier, but at the same time, for instance, it should not send the signal that one is always available for work.
"Sweden differs in many ways from much of the rest of the world," she says. ”We are unique in many ways in how we have built our society, for instance with childcare. For many universities in the world, this kind of model or similar ones are a way of solving such things. We don't have to do that in Sweden, and Genie shouldn't do what our society already does.”
At the same time, she emphasizes the positive effects that a family room generates, and that the issue is not black or white. In the very international environment that academia is, there is often an attitude that working as a researcher is a big part of your whole life, that it is more of a lifestyle.
"Research groups interact very intensively with each other, and getting into Swedish society can be difficult," she says. “A family room can become a room to meet others in, and thus actually help to find and create the balance between working life and social life, to also affirm the life outside of work.”
Janine Splettstößer, professor in theoretical physics
Text and photos: Robert Karlsson