I was touring a beautiful local coworking space with a friend of mine who’s a member. Since my passion is developing a better working world for women, I couldn’t help but ask, how many women come here? I was surprised, and disappointed, to find out that by her estimate the population was 70% male. But the trajectory was a good one; it used to be the case that she would come in and be the only woman in the space all day.
This is a good representation of the direction coworking is heading in general. For awhile now, coworking spaces have been male-dominated, catering primarily to tech startups, which unfortunately are also male-dominated. But that tide is turning. There are now women-only coworking spaces popping up in big cities and, even a few of my favorite kind, coworking spaces that offer childcare.
Let’s take a step back – some of you may be wondering what coworking is and why we should be concerned that women are involved.
Coworking is a movement to create innovative and collaborative workspaces. Individuals that would normally work from home– freelancers, telecommuters, small business owners, graduate students– come to coworking spaces to have an office away from home.
The benefits are community, opportunities for networking, and, more often than not, simply a relief from the isolation of working from home.
McKinsey and Company’s research into what holds women back in the workplace showed that a “lack of role models [and] exclusion from informal networks” were top reasons cited for not progressing in one’s career. Getting women into coworking spaces and into the collaborative relationships that are often formed there can help alleviate this factor.
Luckily, many coworking spaces are starting to see the light and are welcoming women with open arms and benefits that make their spaces attractive to professional women. HeraHub is a spa-inspired coworking space with candles and gentle music and a plan to build 200 women-focused coworking spaces in the US over the next five years (yes, Raleigh-Durham is on the list). The Hive is a smaller space in Philadelphia, but is already looking at opening a second location. The demand is high for women who want to work around and with other women.
And then there’s coworking with childcare, the perfect marriage of work and life for the freelance or telecommuting parent-professional. Since most working women are also juggling childcare, these coworking spaces relieve some of the pressure by offering both work and childcare under the same roof. The model has been put to the test by NextKids in San Francisco, and I am happy to say that I will soon be opening nido durham near downtown Durham, NC.
Both NextKids and nido focus on offering more than just supervised play. NextKids has a structured curriculum with highly qualified early childhood educators, and nido will be offering a Montessori curriculum with certified Montessori teachers heading up our childcare team.
With the projection that 40% of Americans will be working for themselves by 2020, you can expect to see coworking spaces continue to expand. I encourage you to get involved in your local coworking movement. Coworking is the future, and we have to ensure that it is built with women’s needs in mind.
Tiffany Frye manages a small but growing childcare and coworking cooperative and works as a managing editor for science publications. She lives in Durham, NC, with her husband and daughter.