About 10 years ago, coworking spaces were considered a strange solution for freelancers. But now, they're almost ubiquitous within the work-from-home community. Most major cities have at least one coworking space available for entrepreneurs, freelancers, or just anyone who wants an office away from home.
Recently, specially-themed coworking spaces have been popping up in metropolitan areas the world over. Some are geared toward engineers or creatives, and others are focus on offering space for women exclusively. If you're looking for a pleasant work environment where your fellow women can lift you up, these work spaces might be your best bet. But what are the benefits of a women-only working space? Are there any downsides? Here's a few pros and cons to consider.
Pro: Female-focused career support and panel discussions
Networking and finding support in career development is key to survival for a freelancer,. Specifically addressing the hurdles women face in the workplace is also a great idea. It's women who often have difficulty negotiating for a higher salary or struggle with childcare. Or maybe have to navigate a boy's club environment in their chosen career path. Many of these spaces will host panel discussions of these issues with experienced speakers. Some have one-on-one mentorship programs. Others have dedicated career centers to help spruce up your résumé, practice your interview skills, and even train you in salary negotiation. A few even offer childcare for working mothers. No matter what it is, it can be nice to have a network to fall back on if you're running into challenges in your career.
Con: Most female-centric spaces are incredibly focused on single women
It's great to have networking and support for your career, but the majority of women's co-working spaces are specifically geared toward the young working professional. There aren't many workshops on balancing home and work life with a family. And for many working moms, visiting a co-working space might not be an option with their young children. There are a few spaces that do offer childcare on site, including Play, Work, or Dash in Virginia. But this is definitely not widespread and, given the tight regulations surrounding childcare, it's unclear whether this kind of service will catch on elsewhere. For working mothers, maybe a co-working membership just isn't worth the price.
Pro: Work around like-minded women and have the space to speak
When you're in the coworking space, you'll be around a lot of women who have the same goals and dreams as you. Maybe not in specifics, but at least in how much time they want to spend cultivating their career. You know when you walk in the building, you'll be surrounded by women who are working just as hard as you are. That can be motivating and comforting. Another plus for an all-women space is that you won't have to work to make yourself heard. Several studies have found that men dominate conversations in the workplace. This can be because men interrupt women or women just chose not to speak up. But in a female-focused space, there will be no men to take over the conversation. You'll be able to speak your mind freely and be heard.
Con: Women-centric clubs have been the center of controversy
These spaces have offered many resources to working women, but they don't come without controversy. Some critics argue that limiting membership to females only is discriminatory. The New York Human Rights Commission was reportedly investigating The Wing (a coworking space in NYC) for discrimination. Legal experts even say that preventing men from joining could be seen as a violation of the same anti-sex discrimination laws that were meant to protect women. But an attorney representing The Wing has said that the space follows the history of the laws' purpose empower women and level the playing field. So therefore, it is not violating any laws. No one is suing just yet and so far no complaints have been reported, but this new brand of coworking could be sitting in dicey legal territory. The debate could eventually end up in court.
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Rebekah Campbell is the chief executive of Posse, a location-based shopping recommendation app founded in Sydney in March 2013. In July, 2014, she wrote a blog post for the New York Times about her experience moving to New York to dive into start-up culture and develop her business. After getting sick of working on top of her partners in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, she decided to join a coworking space in New York's famed Flatiron district. Inspired by the pace and people of the city, she sought out a space that would introduce her to other entrepreneurs, and give her a low-rent alternative to a long-term commitment office.
According to the Harvard Business Journal, "Coworking spaces" are "membership-based workspaces where diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, and other independent professionals work together in a shared, communal setting." Through ongoing research that involves interviewing coworking space founders and community managers, surveying coworking space employees and performing a regression analysis, researchers concluded the factors behind why people tend to thrive in coworking spaces.
First of all, people who work in these spaces put a lot of meaning into their work. Unlike corporate workers, they are entrenched directly into their passion. In turn, they are the ones to blame if things go wrong. Next, the environment is collaborative and diverse, meaning little direct competition, and plenty of opportunity to give each other advice and motivation. And even though it may look for a free-for-all, people that work in coworking spaces actually report feelings of more structure and community. Seeing all of those people around you hard at work will push you to work that much harder.
Sounds pretty idealistic, right? You have access to WiFi, a kitchen, meeting rooms, and can collaborate as you please. But on Campbell's search for the perfect coworking space, it was a bit of a Goldilocks situation. The first one was too "strict and stuffy" and the next one was "the work version of hippie commune houses." She found that a lot of these spaces had months-long waitlists. Though after a long search, she found what she deemed the best option for her team, and moved in.
At first, it was ideal. But shortly after, she started to notice some very significant problems. First of all, there was no guarantee that they could get the same desks everyday. There were a ton of rules. The noise-level was like a jungle gym, and Campbell often found people pitching her ridiculous ideas just for the sake of mock-collaboration. At the end of the day, she felt homeless.
While Campbell found that the coworking space didn't work for her, Business Insider suggests that offices can take aspects of coworking spaces to make them more collaborative and productive. By including networking and social events, and rearranging some desks, offices can replicate this commune-like atmosphere without going overboard.
So the coworking space is highly debatable, but if you're not one for the office, you can always try a coffee shop or your local library!