If you’ve ever stopped and observed spilled water, it looks like it’s racing away, competing with its own self, trying to cover as much area as possible. That’s pretty much how the idea of coworking seems to be spreading all across the world – in a race against its own self, trying to cover as many different parts of the world as possible.
The ‘coworking’ phenomenon has grown recently and closely, in tandem with the startup boom that took place within the last 10 years or so. Coworking spaces have now cropped up in most (if not all) countries quite thoroughly. In the U.S. and the U.K., there are several co-working spaces that have already made it to the ‘big time’, with some even going international.
Closer home in Asia, the co-working bug is catching on, slowly but surely. In India itself, coworking spaces have seeped into the country quite thoroughly, covering not just the major cities, but also going into tier II and tier III cities as well.
But before we get swept away by all the fancy desks and the super-cool ambiance that these new workplaces provide, let’s pause and ‘look around’ at our fellow coworkers for a bit.
Coworking spaces are meant for any professional, from any background who may be looking for a place to work out of, instead of their own home or their office (if their office permits).
This of course, by default, includes both men and women.
But a recent trend that has started abroad (and has already reached India as well), indicates that there’s something that all these coworking startups are neglecting, unintentionally or not – women, a.k.a., half of the population/workforce. In fact, this infographic clearly shows how there are more males using these coworking spaces as compared to the female.
There is a school of thought that believes that there could be some sort of drawback and why this idea is being considered slow in its takeoff. Laura Huang, assistant professor of management at the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania explains why they have been slow to gain traction in Asia.
“Things like venture capital and seed stage financing are only now starting to become more widespread. The startup ecosystem in a lot of cities such as Mumbai, Beijing, and Shanghai is still evolving. They are getting there, but things like co-working spaces are not always top priority,” Huang says. “Female-only co-working spaces have lagged because we’re still trying to figure out what non-gender specific co-working spaces should look like.”
Indeed, female coworking spaces could actually harm businesses in this new space by effectively limiting their clientele—and thus sales— to one demographic, and decreasing the diversity of the talent pool. Woolfe Works was the first of its kind to open in Singapore 2014 but was forced to close operations in April this year due to dwindling sales.
At the same time, Sarah Chen, a venture investor and co-founder of Asia Women Circle believes that the potential for female co-working in Asia is there and that it will “only be a matter of time” before it picks up.’
“A ‘female-only’ co-working space would serve a growing niche of women who want that sense of community and comfort among like-minded peers, and may hit a particular chord with more religious communities [such as Muslim communities], but this may be a disservice to those that intentionally want to tap on diverse local talent,” Chen says.
There’s a wonderful relationship that can be fostered between co-working spaces and women as they both have a lot to gain from each other – a fact that has already been picked up by women everywhere, from Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan (co-founders of The Wing, in NY, U.S.) to Vandhana Ramanathan and Jinal Patel (co-founders of Square in Chennai, India).
The rising need for a female coworking spaces
A quick glance at all the articles pertaining to female coworking spaces, quickly summarizes that yes, there IS a need for female coworking spaces.
As it is, the general perception of women getting into work at any age, but especially in their 30s or 40s or worse, being unable to get back into work at all after marriage or having children is still persistent and quite bleak.
When talking about co-working spaces, we fail to recognize that there are women at various different points in their life who would want to work. A lot of women are getting into work mode while expecting children, juggling motherhood with their home life and more.
But what does this have to do with female coworking spaces? If women need to get (back) to work, then, can’t they use the already existing coworking spaces?
While that is true, the point is not to simply park yourself in a co-working space and expect magic to happen. A lot of women looking for places conducive to work are unable to find it, even in the present co-working spaces. This could be due to several reasons. Women often feel less encouraged while constantly being surrounded by men in suits or “tech bros” and the overall testosterone-heavy environment. It is a well-documented fact that men can be dominating in spaces (both literally and metaphorically as well) and the possibility of these habits spilling into coworking spaces is very much alive.
“The fundamental idea, says Anna Jones, co-founder of AllBright, is to provide a physical space that allows women to collaborate and network in comfort, without being outnumbered or overshadowed by men.
“Quite often when you have a mixed environment, men tend to dominate discussions and women tend to hold back,” says Anna Jones, cofounder of AllBright. “In a female environment, women are more likely to speak up, share experiences, talk about their successes, and be a bit more open and honest about some of the challenges that they face – because frankly, it’s quite hard to be the only woman in the room.”
Conversely, when women find themselves in an all-women environment, they feel less pressure somehow and feel a sense of belonging.
A female coworking space gives them space and access to various different networks they can be a part of. A network made up of like-minded people and influencers, mentors and coaches will help women with their current scenario, as well as with their future planning.
It is imperative to note that this kind of setting is beneficial, as women feel that their problems with respect to their home life will be taken into consideration and they don’t run the risk of being looked down upon or not taken seriously because of this.
“Women’s work lives, a lot of times, are very different.” “Maybe they’ve got kids and their school. It’s nice not having to explain any of that to anybody.” says Julia Westfall, Hera Hub owner.
Monkey Business, a coworking space with a designated play area for kids, is one such female coworking space in Gurgaon inspired by such struggles of working moms.
The idea came from the life experiences of Monkey Business’ three co-founders; a dad and two moms who found it challenging to juggle parenting and work, as new parents. Both the moms, like a lot of other women, had to give up their jobs after having babies.
“Monkey Business is the future of any workplace that is serious about empowering young mothers to sustain their careers post maternity. Until we enable young moms to truly balance their career and parenting, we will continue to lose precious talent (especially female) from our workforce. It’s not enough to keep talking about the diminishing work-life balance, it’s time to walk the talk.” says Vandana, one of the founders of Monkey Business.
So what we’re saying is..
It’s safe to say that it’s only a matter of time with respect to getting female-focused coworking spaces. As long as they are clear in their intention, there’s no reason why should take anything away from the coworking space and its userbase. If anything, we’d suggest you sit a bit and fasten your seatbelt. With the advent of women-centric coworking spaces, it can only mean one thing – innovation and equality happening at the speed of light!
Want to learn more about trends of co-working? Read this next: Growth Of Coworking Spaces In India (Infographic)
Looking to get into the business? We’ve got you a little help. Read: How To Make A Coworking Space That People Love