Women In Comms

Do Women-Only Co-Working Spaces Work for Women?

Tech startup co-working spaces have been on the rise for the past few years, but it appears there's a new trend emerging -- co-working spaces designed only for women, the antithesis of what have typically been male-dominated spaces in terms of the users and arguably by design.

Women in Comms has covered a few different variations that have opened in the last few weeks, including the Wing, Rise Collaborative and The Girls' Lounge, a women's only lounge at the World Economic Forum in Davos. WorkZone, SheWorks Collective, NewWomen Space and HeraHub are just a few more. (See WiCipedia: Gendered Job Descriptions, Glass Cliffs & Gaslighting and WiCipedia: Male Allies, Co-Working Spaces & Automation.)

The spaces sprung to life because women have long been left out of the boys' club that is the tech industry/startup scene and often don't feel welcome at traditional co-working spaces. So, rather than try to force themselves into an environment they aren't comfortable in, they've created their own spaces, trading kegs for champagne, sports breaks for blow outs and gender co-mingling for females only.

Those aren't hypotheticals, by the way -- a lot of these spaces boast yoga studios, blow-out bars, lattes, pink decor, chandeliers -- you know, things that all women love.

It is something that's resonating with female entrepreneurs, however. The Wing reportedly received 1,300 applications on its opening day and has a 2,300-deep wait list.

Women clearly crave a sense of community, which is something I appreciate. I also love a pumpkin spice latte and yoga as much as the next white girl. I'm just not so sure shutting the men out (and playing to the opposite set of stereotypes) is the right answer. (See WiC Pics: Speak Up & Wear Fabulous Shoes.)

For one thing, the world we work in is not a "safe space." We, as women, need to continually work on gaining the confidence to hold our own in a male-dominated industry while also working to change the culture that often leaves us out. I think we have a better chance of doing this from the inside, rather than retreating to a girls' only club. (See Championing Change: It's a Cultural Thing and WiC: Change Starts With Women, Must Include Men.)

Women in Comms is kicking off a bigger and better 2017! Visit WiC Online and get in touch to learn how you can join us.

Given that these co-working spaces are for startups or those without an office to go to, we're not talking about companies creating his and her cultures. But my concern is that we will see this trend bleed into the workplace. Is a women's only break room next? Or, a company room with a pool table for men and a yoga studio for women only? In my opinion, a lactation room would be great to have for nursing moms, but that's the only gender-specific space an office needs.

I completely see the value of women's only events. Our WiC networking breakfast events started out that way, and there is an energy, comfort-level and networking experience that you don't see at other events in our industry. That said, bringing men into the equation has also been positive and created a new kind of energy. It's great to see it click for a man who finally understands what it's like for a woman to be the only female in the room, and it's productive to bring them into the conversation. Change won't come if women are just talking amongst themselves, especially if our managers and bosses are predominantly male. Men can and want to be mentors, allies and advocates too.

So, while I'm a fan of any place or event that makes women feel invited, included and not insecure, I also think the most progress will come from treating everyone like individuals, rather than their gender stereotypes, and from working together rather than in our own safe silos.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Director, Women in Comms

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ErynLeavens 1/30/2017 | 1:09:40 PM
Reimagining Workspaces Another article came out about co-working spaces for women today, though it's focused somewhat more on health/wellness than work. Lots of interesting quotes from founders and women who work out of these spaces, including: "If we serve as a central hub for women interested in supporting women, and they get something out of their experience here, they can bring that back out to their other communities. There's this dominco, trickle effect." and "There's something special when women gather together. There's a different kind of energy, a kind of camaraderie and support." and lastly, regardling spaces designed only by men - "I don't feel like this [old office] is a creative space. What would it look like if women were to reimagine workspace?"
FelenaHanson 1/27/2017 | 6:09:26 PM
Female Focused Workspace Hi Sarah,

Thanks for listing Hera Hub in your blog.

While Hera Hub is female-focused it's certainly not exclusive to women.  Men who appreciate the environment and sense of community are welcome to join us as well!

It was my experience of running several professional women's organization which led me to build a workspace dedicated to serving women. I truly believe that women interact differently and are instinctively more collaborative in their approach to business. I felt it was important to create a space for female entrepreneurs that is not only beautiful, comfortable, and feminine, yet also very professional. The reception has been fantastic so far, as indicated in the feedback from our members.

Many women running small businesses also have to juggle family life, and therefore feel an affinity with other women in the same situation. Hera Hub is a supportive environment where women feel they easily relate to others helps get to that point in the relationship where they know, like, and trust the other person and are therefore more likely to ask for feedback or refer business.

I welcome you to please come visit us if ever you're in San Diego!
Joe Stanganelli 1/27/2017 | 12:44:52 PM
Re: Safe spaces >>> I can't say I agree, however, that "the upwardly motivated career women I have known have felt oppressed in women-only/women-dominated work environments."

Sure.  That's why I qualified it with "I have known".  Your mileage may certainly vary.  I'm speaking anecdotally, and I completely understand that anecdotes are not the plural of science.

Incidentally, FWIW, the issue in those personal, anecdotal cases had nothing to do with the women in my life seeing their women co-workers as competition so much as it had to do with plain old not getting along.

Again, FWIW.  Just thought what I could share of the experiences of my own friends and loved ones might be worth bringing to the table.

>Work environments where "boys can be boys" would be extremely negative cultures too...

If the behavior is negative and/or contributes to a negative culture that negatively impacts female co-workers (or any co-worker, for that matter), I completely agree.

I had more to say, but this is long enough already.  Suffice to say, I wholeheartedly agree with your overall points, and I did not mean to imply that my former co-workers or I enjoyed behaving or were inclined to behave in a way at the expense of female colleagues or women in general, or that I otherwise prefer or promote negative work environments.
Sarah Thomas 1/26/2017 | 11:57:48 AM
Re: Safe spaces Most of these womens-only spaces make it clear that they are for those who identify as women and are sensitive to LBGQT as well, but I see your points on inclusivity for sure. 

I can't say I agree, however, that "the upwardly motivated career women I have known have felt oppressed in women-only/women-dominated work environments." That's a real problem if women see other women as competition and work environments that have the vibe that "one woman can make it to the top" are extremely negative cultures.

Work environments where "boys can be boys" would be extremely negative cultures too...If you're acting in a way that you wouldn't in front of a woman, that's a problem. Women, too, should be able to be themselves at work; not acting like men to fit in.

My main message in writing this is that we need to stop playing to stereotypes, treat everyone as individuals and create truly inclusive cultures.
Sarah Thomas 1/26/2017 | 11:51:15 AM
Re: Does co-working work at all? Social clubs are certainly different than spaces in which to do work. Something 9 to 5 is different than weekends and evenings too. When it comes to doing your day job, I think the focus needs to be on work.
Sarah Thomas 1/26/2017 | 11:48:17 AM
Re: Does co-working work at all? I have an infant, so blow outs mean something else entirely for me...
Joe Stanganelli 1/26/2017 | 11:04:49 AM
Re: Does co-working work at all? @Sarah: Some of the really old-timey barbershops, along with the new-age sports-bar atmosphere "We're a manly manly salon for men full of men and manly things" hair salons, do the head massage thing.  I'm not a fan.  They're weird.  And they hurt.  I pay my barber/hair stylist to cut my hair -- not massage me.  Just as I pay my masseuse to massage me and not cut my hair.
Joe Stanganelli 1/26/2017 | 11:02:00 AM
Re: Does co-working work at all? @mendyk/@Paul: Indeed, the first thing I think when I hear the term "blowout" is "What was the final score?"
Joe Stanganelli 1/26/2017 | 11:00:37 AM
Safe spaces @Sarah: From a practical and social standpoint, I tend to agree with you (not to mention the fact that the employment lawyer side of me finds any such work arrangement inherently problematic in the most cases -- and even more so now in the age of transgender-protection laws) for the very reasons you cite.

Moreover, in my hearsay experience (i.e., from hearing about the days of the women in my life over the years), the upwardly motivated career women I have known have felt oppressed in women-only/women-dominated work environments -- and that they prefer to run with the men (or, at least, a mix of men and like-minded women).

As for my own personal experience?  I once worked in a completely male-dominated environment -- only a few women worked for the company, and they all worked on a different floor in a different department.  (It was a small business in an inherently male-dominated industry, and I was one of the first employees, so what few women did work there was actually a lot, relatively speaking.)

It was at once shocking and refreshing to work in an environment where the boys could be boys, so to speak, and we felt that we could communicate with each other more freely and do all the "mansplaining" we wanted.

Consequently, I imagine the same is true or could be true for many women.  And, corollarily, there have been positive benefits for some girls and women in the cases of women-only gyms and girls-only schools.

In the end, I suppose it's different strokes for different folks -- but at the end of the day, Sarah, you're 100% right: the world is not a safe space, so better we put on our big-boy and big-girl shoes and make nice with everybody.

(And it's especially not a safe space from costly employment discrimination lawsuits (both successful and unsuccessful), no matter how well intentioned the policy.)
ErynLeavens 1/25/2017 | 12:17:46 PM
Re: Does co-working work at all? Sarah,

I definitely view them more as a social club for networking and hearing abuot new ideas or attending a lecture than getting work done. Again, I think there's probably a big difference in these between someone who works in tech and someone who might have a more creative, flexible job that doesn't require staring at a computer all day!
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