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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.)


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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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Kelsey Ziser 1/25/2017 | 9:29:30 AM
Re: Does co-working work at all? @Paul "blowouts" are when a hair stylist blow dries and styles your hair for you. 

@Eryn - I'm on the fence about these co-working spaces. At first they seemed like a great idea, but I think Sarah makes some great points about establishing equality through co-ed environments. They should offer day-passes or 30-day trials.

 
PaulERainford 1/25/2017 | 5:00:39 AM
Re: Does co-working work at all? Point of order: what are these 'blowouts' of which you speak?


In my experience, the most crucial thing to consider about co-working spaces is whether people wash up their own coffee cups or not.
ErynLeavens 1/24/2017 | 2:34:12 PM
Re: Does co-working work at all? If I didn't work from home I might be interested in going to one of these, but only because it sounds a lot better than a regular office. I'm pro women-only spaces and am actually interested in a lot of the perks some of these places offer. I think the difference is the industry that they cater to. The Wing, for example, is popular with women who work in music and fashion in particular, so their perks make sense to me. If there were one just for women in tech or women in comms, maybe their perks would be different because the interests of that subset would be different.
Sarah Thomas 1/24/2017 | 12:43:17 PM
Re: Does co-working work at all? Work out facilities do sound like a great perk for a quick break from work that could actually help make your day more productive. I like that. Child care on-site would also be so helpful and unique. (These are true for any kind of co-working space.)

Definitely see the parallel to the Little Rascals club! (I find myself quoting that excellent movie a lot, actually...) 
Kelsey Ziser 1/24/2017 | 11:59:52 AM
Re: Does co-working work at all? @Sarah - Right, I almost felt like it was a sexist response to offer sterotypically female amenities at these co-working spaces. Personally, I'd trade the free blowouts for access to a climbing wall.

Maybe it's silly, but I couldn't help think of the Little Rascals who had the He-Man Woman Haters club and the girls who started their own She-Woman Man-Haters Club. The more I think about it, it just strikes me as a short-sighted response - well you all created your exclusive club so we'll just do the same! 
Sarah Thomas 1/24/2017 | 11:51:55 AM
Re: Does co-working work at all? Thanks for the feedback, Kelsey! I was going back and forth on this a bit, because I don't want to knock what are very well-intentioned and hopefully productive spaces. I think they have a lot of potential and are clearly welcome by female entrepenuers. I also think they will succeed in providing the support that women in tech need, but when I think about acheiving our ultimate goals of empowering women in tech, recruiting and retaining more of them and championing more positive company cultures, I don't think these type of venues acheive that. I have no problem excluding men sometimes (sorry, but it's true!), but feeling comfortable and confident within a bubble is only going to help you in that bubble. And, change is uncomfortable, remember?!

Like you, I also don't like how stereotypical they are. If we have a problem playing to male stereotypes, why should we play to female ones? 
Kelsey Ziser 1/24/2017 | 11:41:01 AM
Re: Does co-working work at all? @Sarah I've thought about joining a co-working space but I prefer being able to do my own thing in the comfort of my home, plus it's cheaper! Honestly, I was a little turned off by some of the descriptions of women-only co-working spaces. They touted blow-outs and lattes and it seemed very stereotypical to me. Not that I don't like those things, but I would find more value in regular networking and offering those amenities seems to just perpetuate stereotypes. I agree with you that the best way forward on a daily basis for women is collaborating with men in co-ed environments. 
Sarah Thomas 1/24/2017 | 9:48:02 AM
Re: Does co-working work at all? Also, I have to be honest, I don't really like yoga; just wearing yoga pants. And, I don't drink pumpkin spice lattes; just regular ones. Otherwise, it's all true.
Sarah Thomas 1/24/2017 | 9:33:30 AM
Does co-working work at all? My next question should be do co-working spaces work at all? I admit that as someone who works at home, I would love to have a co-working space to go to. And,  I'd love to choose a women's only one, but that is mainly because of the great amentities most have and to meet other women. So, it's not so much about working. It'd be more about socializing (which some of these spaces are for as well). Has anyone worked at a co-working space, and are they pretty conducive to getting work done?

Also, would love to hear your thoughts on whether they should be gender specific. I definitely see both sides, and I imagine there are some strong opinions out there!
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