- By being non-inclusive and non-diverse, coworking spaces limit their scope to less than half, possibly a third, of the potential target market.
- Coworking in many ways ultimately originates from hospitality, meaning that coworking spaces are already aligned with base values like being welcoming and inclusive.
- Ahead of a free online discussion taking place on Wednesday December 1, 2021, European Coworking Assembly’s Jeannine van der Linden addresses the key reasons why coworking spaces should be more inclusive, and how to do it.
Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility are important for all independent coworking spaces. Independent coworking spaces are close to their community and it is important that they consider and embrace all the members of their surrounding communities and so lead in making them more accessible and diverse.
And that leadership is important. But it is also clear from the research in this area that consciously choosing to foster a diverse community within a business, drives revenue.
As it happens, the most sustainable choice is also the choice that increases abundance. By being non-inclusive and non-diverse – that is, by choosing not to be mindful of the whole picture in their city or town – coworking spaces actually limit their target market to less than half, possibly a third, of the potential target market.
Coworking in many ways ultimately originates from hospitality, meaning that coworking spaces are already aligned with base values like being welcoming and inclusive. If a coworking space is non-accessible and non-inclusive, then fewer people are bound to make use of that space, which means that what we do not see and look at can mean that we are missing opportunities.
Speaking up for the marginalised
People who are not marginalised, need to be the ones speaking up for those who are marginalised and especially in the places where we are heard and they are not. We’re the ones who can, who can speak and be heard.
But the reason we need to do this is not to help the poor helpless others. Quite the contrary; it is not that they need us. It is that we are in the pickle we are in because we need them. We can’t do without the people that we have marginalised, to be very direct about it. They add value with solutions and resources to our already complex and urgent problems.
When we allow marginalised members to step into our coworking spaces and be centered there, we give our spaces a better chance of survival.
They bring more creativity, more solutions, and more ideas into our coworking spaces. They ensure that we stay up to date and that we stay relevant. The only way we will be able to have a completely inclusive space, is if we let go of our biases and discrimination.
And it seems to me that discrimination has developed as part of the human being, right in our central nervous system, and is a survival positive trait. The human brain developed over many eons to make distinctions and see patterns, and to do it quickly. We have at various times needed to make rapid judgments about whether or not we could trust people.
So, it is fair to say that we all discriminate, and in many ways I think biases were formed because we are more comfortable if someone physically has the familiar markers of the pack that we are a part of.
But, just like we can learn to walk or talk – both of which are also learned behaviors based on natural tendencies, we can also learn another way of looking at the world. Real effort is needed for us to ensure that we override this basic tendency, but it can be done. The first step is to see it and think about it and identify it in yourself.
How to create an IDEA space
Integrating IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) in coworking space means just this: to look, think, and identify ways in which the space can be more inclusive. We were discussing how this type of space can grow revenue, but how do we ensure that a space is inclusive?
Understanding the community
First of all, it is important to understand your coworking space and your communities. When you completely understand your community, it becomes far easier for them to ensure that the space is inclusive to all.
The best way to do this is by collecting data. Set up surveys and ask the community members to take part in these surveys, anonymously. When coworkers respond to a survey anonymously, they are far more likely to be honest. The data collected can create a clear image of the community and what they expect from the coworking space. It is also advisable to find out about the people who are not your coworkers but are in the larger community: do some research online, go to a few open houses, identify those who you are not reaching and reach out to the groups they are members of.
Coworking spaces should be conscious and mindful about how they communicate, internally and externally, with their coworkers. Without noticing it, there are many ways in which people can be made to feel that they are excluded without that being the intention.
For instance, having a line in a newsletter: “each coworker will be allowed to bring his/her child to the space for bring-your-child-to-work day.” That’s inclusive, right?
Sure it is, but you can also say “Children are welcome in the space on bring-your-child-to-work day”. This decenters you and centers the subject of your communication and removes the entirely unnecessary embedded communications:
- That only one child per coworker is allowed
- That it has to be their own child
- That there are two genders and each child has one of each for a parent
- That this is a concession for one day and not really welcoming.
This article has been written by Jeannine van der Linden, Director at the European Coworking Assembly. The Assembly serves as the one point of contact between independent coworking in Europe and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in which it finds itself.