Women-friendly co-working spaces are popping up all over the place, offering women community, connection and a supportive environment for their business ventures.
From the Internet to portable computers and smartphones, new technologies aren't only making our lives easier, they are also changing the way we work. More and more people are shifting from the conventional office job to remote work -- either working from home or from a co-working space, or engaging in various forms of digital nomadism.
Co-working spaces are changing too: they are increasingly becoming 'boutique' spaces that offer perks such as climbing walls, indoor gyms and playgrounds, yoga classes and even the option of moving the whole office to the beach for an afternoon of surfing.
So it makes sense that some are now offering women-focused co-working spaces, in a response to what some call the predominance of "fratty [co-working] venues that advertise kegs and pingpong." A recent piece in Bloomberg profiles one such female-only space in Manhattan called The Wing, which offers a breast-feeding room, on-demand blowouts, as well as a library and markedly feminine decor.
But the concept of women-only spaces aren't new. The Bloomberg piece notes that over a century ago, thousands of "women's clubs" flourished as modern household conveniences freed women up from domestic drudgery, allowing them to form reading circles and study clubs, and it now seems that these co-working spaces are an extension of this historical precedent. With new female-centric or female-only co-working spaces like The Wing, SheWorks Collective, Rise Collaborative, New Women Space, Paper Dolls, Hera Hub and Shecosystem popping up in New York City, St. Louis, Phoenix, Southern California, Washington, D.C. and Toronto, it appears that the concept might be tapping into something big. These spaces are apparently filling a need that other conventional or on-demand workspace-rental services cannot fulfill.
To feel 'at home'
Some will no doubt take issue with female-oriented workspaces. They may ask, isn't it exclusionary? Or completely unnecessary in this age of relative gender equality and neutrality, like the "she-shed"?
The rationale for this may ultimately come down to hormones -- stress hormones such as cortisol, that is. A recent study by Indiana University researchers found that "token" women in male-dominated offices exhibited chronically unhealthy levels of cortisol. Previous studies have also shown that male-dominated workplaces can trigger social isolation, not to mention the potential for sexual harassment or stressful interpersonal interactions that can lead self-doubt. It wouldn't be a big stretch to imagine that some co-working spaces out there may have this kind of toxic atmosphere.
So it's no wonder women are flocking to female-centred co-working spaces. After all, no matter how you look at it, the playing field in the corporate world and the startup ecosystem has yet to be levelled, and that includes these new spaces for work and innovation. This shift toward women-friendly spaces is about creating a place where women feel like they belong, and can be themselves, and can find support for their ventures, says Paper Dolls founder Jen Mojo over on HuffPo:
There are glaring gaps in resources available to support the growth of women entrepreneurs, everything from access to funding and mentorship to quality of networking and workspace options. [..] I started to ask my friends about what they felt was missing for them when they worked from home. From working at coffee shops to co-working spaces, it became clear they didn’t feel at home outside of the home.
'We have to build it for ourselves'
Besides, not all of these co-working spaces are exclusively for women: some do welcome male members too. On the flip side, there are also male-only co-working spaces to support men as well. It also boils down to the changing world of work, and how these new structures to support what's emerging still haven't crystallized yet, says Mojo:
Women are no longer living a linear path to success. Careers came with a built-in infrastructure. You were given your colleagues, networks, retirement accounts, insurance, etc. Today it’s different especially for women who want to design their own work lives. That structure doesn’t exist and we have to build it for ourselves. We have to collaborate to get access to the resources we want, which requires a heavy level of commitment, understanding and community. It’s the crowdsharing economy realized, but in the workplace.
In the end, is it so odd that women are forming their own spaces where they feel like they belong and can find support? Is it really that radical of a concept, just like coworking spaces with childcare? If the past has anything to tell us, it's that these spaces are merely a continuation of those spaces of belonging found within women's circles that probably have their ancient roots in many cultures around the world. As the 'boutique' trend continues to percolate through the booming co-working movement, we can probably expect more specialized spaces to pop up, with women-centred workspaces only one expression of a larger shift toward workplaces that are built around sharing skills, collaboration and community.
Read more over at Bloomberg.