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.
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.)
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, , Director, Women in Comms