Why female-centric spaces are balancing the coworking equation
The Wing and other women-focused coworking companies are growing as demand rises for niche workplaces.
Coworking continues to grow in popularity worldwide, but when it comes to gender, there can be a sense that the spaces aren't always so balanced.
The response arising in major cities: coworking spaces created just for women and non-binary people.
The Wing started in New York City and has since spread west. London has the Blooms Business Club. The Riveter is in Los Angeles, Seattle and Texas.
“Women and nonbinary people are seeking a work environment that is different than what exists in some of the bigger coworking firms,” says Amber Schiada, who directs research for the Southwest US at JLL. “The concepts that have emerged so far are focused on cultivating niche communities.”
The Wing opened in New York City in 2016, has five outposts already open, and six more planned. In January, it raised US$75 million in a series C funding round, bringing its total funding to date to $117.5 million.
Spacious lactation rooms, luxury beauty products in the bathrooms, and community programming with notable female and non-binary leaders set the coworking company apart from the standard fare. Its SoHo location is even piloting a daycare program.
In London, Blooms Business Club is a female-centric coworking space near Shoreditch, the city’s hotspot for startups. The space opened in 2017 as an arm of Blooming Founders, a social network for women founders.
The Riveter is a female-forward coworking hub expanding across the US. It’s open to all genders, including men, but the intent is to offer an environment that is more comfortable for women members than the average office.
“Forward thinking companies have adopted their workplace planning processes to meet female preferences and needs – but many fall short,” Schiada says.
A dedicated women’s room with a mini fridge and comfortable chair is relatively easy to provide, but it goes a long way in making breastfeeding mothers who need to pump comfortable at work.
“A friend at a big company told me she had to sit in the filing closet to pump at her office,” says Julia Georgules, who directs research for New England at JLL. “That’s not sanitary, it’s unpleasant and it’s demoralizing. Despite the size of the company, that was not a benefit.”
While nascent coworking companies who want to seize the female-focused trend may prioritize Instagram-friendly wallpaper and pink pillows, they will be wise to focus on the more integral amenities like on-site childcare and spacious pumping room, Georgules says.
But amenities are nothing without community. When a group has an affinity for a common niche, their allegiance is authentic, which is the strongest form of brand loyalty, Schiada says.
“There is very little within a large sterile work environment that bonds people other than physical space,” she says.
On the flip side, when a coworking operator caters to a community – from amenities to community activities to décor – it makes it more likely that members will stay on.
“The female-centric spaces that have emerged so far are doing this well, and it is expected that this sector of the coworking space will continue to grow,” Schiada says. “So long as they don’t lose sight of the community elements, they will thrive.”