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Friday Feature: Women only workspaces

My husband sent me this article today and wondered what I thought about it.  It's from Slate, asking the question Where Is the Demand for Women-Only Co-Working Spaces Coming From?

I didn't know women-only co-working spaces were a thing, but it turns out there are a number of organizations in the shared office marketplace that provide women-only options.  According to the Slate article, one of the biggest is the Wing.  Their mission is "the professional, civic, social, and economic advancement of women through community.  We believe that the act of coming together as women creates new opportunities, ideas and conversations that will lead to greater mobility and prosperity for womankind."

A McKinsey and Company report from 2016 estimates the size of the independent workforce in the US and the EU-15 at 162 million people or 20-30% of the working age population in those regions.  Their definition of independent workers are those who "have a high degree of autonomy, are paid by the task or assignment, and those who sell goods or rent assets.  Some portion of these workers will also have a regular full time job somewhere, but many don't work for a company per se, and need a place to work outside their home.  As a result, according to the Global Co-working Unconference Conference, the total number of global co-working spaces will grow from 14,411 in 2017 to over 30,000 by 2022.

The women-only workspace providers, though, are offering more than a comfortable and convenient place to work with reliable WiFi.  Look at the Wing mission statement above - the emphasis is on creating a community of women who help each other.  They are also offering an environment where women can feel safe.  They're offering special events or "happenings"  where women can socialize with each other outside of their work time.  They're helping their members create sisterhood networks of women who share common goals and interests.   I get it.

However, I also worry about the unintended consequences of this voluntary segregation of workers.  I absolutely understand why many women would welcome a work place without the potential of #MeToo consequences ranging from being ignored to being harassed.  On the other hand, they may be cutting themselves off from a lot of useful contacts and collaboration opportunities if they limit themselves to women-only environments.

The road to workplaces and workspaces that are safe and free from bias for all parties  continues to be a long and winding one.  It feels great to be able to take down your defenses with people you can absolutely trust to have your back.  I believe, though, that has less to do with gender than it does with the hard work of building relationships with other people.  Men hold up the other half of the sky.  It's going to be hard to make progress together if we're not even in the same room.

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