How To Build Diverse And Inclusive Coworking Spaces

“We need to be the light to show like-minded individuals that they can be a part of this. We have to be intentional and be willing to be the leader -- not just tell, but show.” - Tim Williams
  • Conversations around racial injustice, inclusivity and diversity — or lack thereof — are conversations that need to happen.
  • In a recent GWA webinar, experts shared thoughts and experiences on how the flexible workspace industry can promote diversity and inclusivity. 
  • It’s important to note that inclusivity isn’t solely about race or skin tone, but also about factors such as sexual orientation, or a physical or mental disability; this needs to be reflected in our workplaces. 

How can we build authentic, inclusive workplace communities for the benefit of everyone?

This was the topic of a recent webinar hosted by Lauren Wilson and Jamie Russo from the GWA, which invited three industry experts to share their thoughts and experiences on how our industry can create positive change by promoting diversity and inclusivity.

The panel included:

  • Tim Williams – Diverse Culture
  • Kristin Diodonet – Pacific Workplaces
  • Tracy Powell – Blue Lacuna

Right now, a lot of conversations are focusing on diversity. Partly, it’s because the current Covid-19 situation is forcing people to stay at home and consume more media coverage, right at the time when events surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd, and the heightened impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, is filling TV screens and news outlets.

“The pandemic is giving everyone the time for these events to be considered, to sink in,” said Tim Williams of Diverse Culture. “People are sitting home and thinking these things through. I pray that these results shape a better future.”

Conversations around racial injustice, inclusivity and diversity — or lack thereof — are conversations that need to happen.

“Some of us know that these issues have existed as long as I’ve been alive,” said Tracy Powell. “A spark has ignited people’s awareness around the injustices that exist. It’s having a huge impact. I’m seeing it in our spaces, in business, in communities, in every aspect of life.”

Here are Allwork.Space’s highlights of the GWA’s panel discussion, which was moderated by Lauren Wilson.

Lauren Wilson (GWA): How can companies make changes that are authentic and not simply a case of jumping on the bandwagon?

For Powell, it is about approaching the situation proactively and embracing different cultures and communities.

“Look for organizations that represent diversity. For example, our Blue Lacuna space in Chicago is based in a largely latino/latina community, so I went and met all the local organizations to talk about our space and welcome them into our community.”

Powell worked to connect with other communities in the area and proactively demonstrate that the space is open to all. “You have to be friendly and open.”

Do you target minority businesses in your workspace marketing?

When Wilson asked this question, she added that she is “often the only black person in the space” when she walks into shops or workplaces. “I look for little cues. I check websites, I want to know if your images represent me? I want to see people who look like me.”

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It’s important to note that inclusivity isn’t solely about race or skin tone, but also about factors such as sexual orientation, or a physical or mental disability.

Tim Williams noted that when he launched his workspace, initially he didn’t think about targeting a minority audience.

“What changed? 

We made a pivot to make sure we stood out. From there, we purposefully aimed for underserved communities. Since our service is heavily focused on diversity and inclusion, we worked on connecting with intentional organizations that focus on this, and that want change, and want to be associated with change.”

Williams conducted a survey that asked 100 people, ‘what is diversity?’ and found that the majority answer was “black and white”.

“But it’s bigger than colour,” he added. “Until we can truly understand what diversity is, it’s hard to put together a process to make sure we can position ourselves to be a more diverse and inclusive company.”

How can community managers use their position to build inclusive and diverse spaces?

For Kristin Diodonet from Pacific Workplaces, it’s all about talking to people and creating connections.

In her prior Community Manager role, she had a spreadsheet with all of her members and their businesses. “I wanted to know who they were and what they do, because I wanted to let them know that I care about them.”

She urged other community managers to find out more about their members and work to connect them with other people and businesses outside the space.

“I sent out blog posts about our members because I wanted people outside our community to find out what we’re about. You have access to all these people — amplify that. It’s important to connect with members, talk to them, listen, and share experiences.

“Be open and willing to have conversations. Make time for them. By talking with members you get amazing insights, which helps you to support them better.”

What can the flexible office industry do to support minority workspace owners?

According to Williams, only 1.4% out of all US coworking spaces are minority owned.

“There aren’t many minority owners. Coworking is hard, it’s not super lucrative. But coworking and mentorship is totally needed. It’s the future.”

For coworking to improve on this and bring more minority owners and operators into the industry, for Williams, it’s all about sharing knowledge, educating, and mentoring others.

“Education is still a problem,” he said, as a lot of people still don’t know what coworking is or how it works. “We have to educate not just our audience, but the individuals who make the decisions that enable us to progress.

“We need to be the light to show like-minded individuals that they can be a part of this. We have to be intentional and be willing to be the leader — not just tell, but show.”

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