- A wave of female-focused coworking spaces are emerging across different US and international markets.
- Steve King from Emergent Research expects women-focused spaces to grow from 40-50 to over 200 by 2021.
- These types of niche spaces are attracting businesswomen because they offer an inviting, safe, and warm environment, as well as access to a like-minded community and targeted programming that can help them grow their businesses.
While the Wing continues to make headlines for its very pink and lush décor, gender-discrimination policies that instigated legal action; and inspiring debate about feminism, money, and power, a wave of other female-focused workspaces are quietly emerging to serve women employees, business owners and solopreneurs.
With little fanfare, established women-focused spaces such as the Riveter (tagline: Built by Women. For Everyone) and Hera Hub are in expansion mode while independent centers, such as newly launched Hayvn in Fairfield, Connecticut, have opened to serve a specific member population as well.
Despite their growing presence, the number of women-focused spaces is quite small relative to the total number of coworking spaces.
“Our current estimate is there are 40-50 women focused coworking spaces in the US, with about a third having been added in the last year,” reported Steve King, Emergent Research.
Yet the spaces account for just 1.2% of the 4,043 coworking spaces in the U.S. in 2017.
“The nature of niche players is they tend to serve smaller segments relative to the size of mass markets,” explained King. Take for example Hera Hub, which averages 100 members per coworking location.
“It’s also a relatively new trend. The growth rate for these types of spaces is clearly accelerating and we expect there will be around 200 U.S. women-focused spaces by 2021,“ King noted.
In many cases, the emphasis is less on catering to women, and more of meeting the needs of a particular niche.
In Hayvn’s case, it is professional women who may have a full-time job in nearby New York City, but want to work locally several days a week to stay close to home. Longtime Connecticut business professional Felicia Rubenstein discovered an above-average concentration of highly educated women in the area who were underserved by available options and set out to create a space to meet their needs.
Founded eight years ago, Hera Hub, is considered the first international female-focused coworking space and business accelerator, according to founder Felena Hanson.
With seven locations from San Diego to Sweden, and an eighth about to open, Hera Hub seeks to build a supportive community for women through education, mentoring, and collaboration.
It’s a model that appears to be working.
Hanson estimates that 30% of Hera Hub’s members have “accelerated” significantly enough to outgrow the space and moved on to establish a dedicated headquarters facility of their own.
Programming varies with the focus of the particular space.
Often considered more social club than coworking space, The Wing may have a shop with branded merchandise, a library and politically charged speakers. The Riveter and Hayvn may include speakers from news, entertainment, or events with health and wellness themes, as well as onsite yoga or gyms to nurture the physical aspect of their members. A growing number of spaces are adding child care to their service mix.
In contrast, all of Hera Hub’s programming is by members and focused solely on business acumen, from the Guru Series where members have open office hours, to the 48-hour Boot Camp that Hanson, a former college entrepreneurial instructor leads.
“We have constant programming happening every day in the space to support those individuals who are launching that early stage entrepreneurial business to help them be successful and outgrow us and get their own space,” said Hanson, noting that in the last eight years, Hera Hub programming has supported over 12,000 women in the launch or growth of their business.
Programming also supports women who may not have the bandwidth to undergo formal degree programs or long-term coaching commitments.
“It’s about finding those resources in a just in time basis,” relates Hanson, noting that for members in her demographic, going back to school is simply not doable.
For many spaces, the goal is not to exclude men, but rather to create the type of atmosphere that allows members – many of whom fall outside traditional coworking population – to thrive.
It’s about creating a like-minded community of members and an environment where they feel comfortable and not afraid to reach out for help.
“The dynamics are different,” relates Hanson, who has been an entrepreneur and marketer for more than two decades.
“Men operate differently. Women tend to be more open, to get into groups, and to give each other mentoring and support,” she said.
“When you bring the male dynamic in, you get a little more posturing, and things get kept closer,” she explained. “When women get together there’s so much more opportunity to be open and vulnerable. It changes the dynamic.”
According to Gensler, coworking users are often young, male, manager-level tech works. Women-focused spaces often target a different population.
“Some of these spaces are kind of testosterone driven,” says Hanson. “They’re all about angels and VCs and funding and pitching. “95% of our members aren’t doing that. They’re starting businesses that are solo practices.”
“Statistically, in the U.S. 87% of women-owned businesses have zero full-time employees. They need support and mentoring and resources but are not scrubbing their pitch deck constantly,” she said.
“Most of our members range from early 20s to late 60s, and are a little more accomplished,” said Hanson. “They’ve had a corporate career in some shape or form but stepped out to launch a business or have more balance and control on where work. They have families and children.”
“We provide a safe, supportive setting where they can be open and vulnerable and ask for the support and resources they need and not feel like they have to show up knowing everything.”
Aesthetics and Intangibles to Create a Safe, Supportive Setting
Many members come to a female-focused space after touring or working in traditional coworking spaces where they found Taco Tuesday and beer on tap is not the vibe they were seeking, founders say.
When they arrive at a female-focused space, the décor goes a long way toward making the statement that “you’ve found your tribe,” founders say, who work to create a setting that is reflective of the supportive environment and collaborative aura many spaces are based on.
While design is often the most visible element, other factors come into play in creating a harmonious productive setting.
“When you’re spending eight to 10 hours a day working, you want to know that you’re in an environment that looks good. It smells great. There’s harmony between people who are working together,” said Jocelyn Greenky, a consultant who specializes in solving business climate, diversity, inclusion and office politics challenges and is co-author of The Big Sister’s Guide to the World of Work: The Inside Rules Every Working Girl Must Know.
Female-focused spaces tend to embody such an atmosphere, which in many cases, is something members feel, rather than can articulate.
“Women’s spaces have a different vibe,” explains Linda Kuppersmith, president, CMIT Solutions Stamford, who as a veteran of the tech sector, works frequently with teams comprised mostly of men.
It was a far different experience when her five-person team included four women, she recalled. “It was much less a positioning/territorial kind of thing. There was an automatic warmth and respect because you’re working with other professional women who have gotten to where they are with a shit ton of hard work.”
“In between we’re all balancing something outside the workplace as well, whether it’s young kids, aging parents, the dog, or building a house. Women are freer to talk about that stuff and not think that there’s a stigma against it,” she explained.
While design of most female-focused spaces reflects the clientele, it is often a less tangible essence that sets the tone of safety, support and quiet collaboration that attracts members for a multitude of reasons.
“When you walk into the space, it is immediately warm and homey, not sterile and modern,” Kuppersmith said when describing Havyn, where she is a member of the Board of Advisors and Chief Technology Advisor.
“It is the colors. It is the fabrics. I wouldn’t call it a girly place. It reminds me of some cute seaside little house. Those muted colors are both relaxing and energizing all at the same time, and you’re just immediately hit with that feeling,” she added.
At Hera Hub, with its a self-described day-spa inspired décor, the atmosphere is very much by design.
“I get a lot of people who say ‘It’s so nice. It’s so relaxing here. This is where I want to hang out. It feels good in here. I don’t know why. I can’t put my finger on it,’” says Hanson. This is accomplished through design that’s based on years of experience and research.
“It’s creating an environment that’s different. Instead of concrete floors and ping pong tables, you want someone to feel warm and welcome” says Hanson, noting that a subdued décor is particularly helpful for members in service segment. Their clients are often in life-stressing situations and find the atmosphere calming when they visit.
Layouts are often designed to foster collaboration.
In contrast to WeWork, which are typically comprised of 90% offices and 10% open space, Hera Hub has 90% open office and 10% private offices. The Wing has 100% unassigned seating which is designed to build networks, founder Audrey Gelman told Vox.
The Wing also strives to create a space inspired by college library environments, which she called fun and inviting with an unapologetic work-hard vibe.
“You immediately walk in and feel this feeling that is really communal and it’s energizing,” Gelman told Vox. “Women set more ambitious life goals for themselves in the company of other women.”
Replacing Professional Clubs
Some have found that women focused spaces are an evolution of women-focused platforms of the past.
Gelman and her cofounder Lauren Kassan have likened The Wing to the women’s club movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries before women had the right to vote. When women found men’s institutions such as country clubs or elite colleges closed to them, they created groups of their own.
They can also serve as a more time-efficient replacement for professional organizations.
Linda Kuppersmith observed that a once thriving professional association she was active in had gone dormant, while at the same time, other variations of women’s professional networking opportunities have emerged.
“Women no longer had time for Women in Management where the focus had been supporting women in the workplace as well as professional development. “
“Now there are a lot of places where women could get that,” she said. “I think that is also telling us women are finding value in just spending a little time woman to woman.”
It’s a spirit that appears to thrive in women-focused spaces.
“We’ve worked in three or four coworking type situations,” Kuppersmith recalled. “And I never really saw people collaborate and have free flow of conversation. Everyone was working on their own corner.
“At Hayvn, people want to get to know each other. They stop by and introduce themselves.”