In the past few years women’s co-working spaces have become a big hit, especially for small business owners, freelancers and entrepreneurs. Any creative working in the UK will know that hiring private space can be expensive, working from home can be isolating and that planting yourself in an environment where there isn’t room to grow, or at the very least be yourself, can undermine your process and your goals.
Today, co-working spaces are a normal and viable option for many people and are talked up by single workers and business owners all over the world due to the supportive, collaborative and more sustainable nature of each space compared with more traditional rented spaces.
I’ve parked at plenty of co-working pop-ups and areas; from dingy ‘upcycled’ corporate spaces where I’d be expected to take a break from interning to clean the toilet ‘for the greater good’, to inspiring open-plan lofts filled with amazing makers in the heart of London. I currently have the great privilege of working at Google Campus for startups and at The AllBright, a women’s co-working space.
Why female-centric co-working spaces?
Today the very idea of these spaces is something run-of-the-mill and now that we mostly know what to expect from them, we’ve begun to see them evolve, shifting to better serve the people using them. One example of this change is a focus by some on exclusively supporting particular groups of creatives and entrepreneurs, for example solo workers, young people or women.
I recently interiewed Lola Hoad, Founder of One Girl Band and the One Girl Band women’s co-working space in Brighton, to get an idea of how the creative community in the UK can benefit from using these more focused spaces, what they bring to the table and what the One Girl Band space offers.
The value of women’s co-working spaces
Lola’s OGB space in Brighton acts as a safe base for female entrepreneurs whose businesses are creatively led. The building essentially acts as a tangible and burgeoning extension of her online support group and mentorship business One Girl Band.
Lola began her career as a designer and soon became a small business owner, creating hand-lettered paper goods and hosting workshops around the UK. Having faced a number of challenges along the way, she decided to share her insights and offer advice to women in similar situations, growing an open network and soon becoming a working mentor. Many of the issues she has faced herself are addressed in the way she runs the OGB space.
What are the benefits of a women-only space?
Many working women, Lola included, agree that social interaction, being able to relate to those around you and feel supported is key to developing confidence and working productively. Women working in the creative industries by no means experience identical challenges each and every day, however, being part of a team that will offer advice without judgement and help or encouragement if you ask for it is deeply valuable.
The best women’s co-working spaces
Of course, London has a few of these spaces to offer, most notably The AllBright, The Hearth and The Wing. The AllBright, of which I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of being an honorary member is the full package – bright, airy townhouses bedecked with artwork by female creatives, event spaces, open plan office space, fitness studios, restaurants, bars and a salon and spa.
The AllBright is undoubtedly one of my favourite places to hang out in London, not least because it’s full of cool women and you’re likely to pass your heroes on the stairs at any given time, but because it’s cool, intellectual, bougie and hanging out there makes you feel as though you’ve made it.
But listen, working in a space that’s wall-to-wall Diane Arbus and Michelin-standard meals does come at a price. Myself? I was able to use the spaces at The AllBright for free and was also able to attend talks, supper clubs, screenings and networking events free of charge. For working women, a membership means something to budget for, it’s the most inspiring place to be as an entrepreneur and the benefits of just being in the room are endless, but a membership at a space like The AllBright is still a luxury for many. Still, I’d rather be giving Founders Debbie and Anna my money than the Soho House Group. I know where that money is being invested and I back their free academy and like the events they host.
In the most simplistic terms, spaces like the One Girl Band co-working space and The AllBright clubs offer an opportunity to feel comfortable, valued and encouraged by people who understand the biases, microagressions, distractions and challenges stacked against working women. Of course, this atmosphere is something that all co-working venues attempt to provide, however, there’s no one size fits all and the celebratory, supportive female-centric model clearly works for many women.
Different people work differently and we all respond to varied environments. If working with like-minded women each day to create something you’re passionate about works for you and pushes you forward, it’s absolutely worth making use of spots like these and what they offer.
Are women’s co-working spaces really inclusive?
But of course, when a member’s club seems to be offering what can only be described as a women-only utopia in your own hometown, is it just too good to be true? The Wing, an American incarnation of the women’s co-working space, made it’s way to London and it was a really big deal at the time.
The antithesis of pared-back minimalist spaces like One Girl Band and the upscale luxury interiors of The AllBright, The Wing is a millennial pink paradise with a ‘fuck the haters’ attitude. Welcoming ambitious women through its doors, The Wing grew exponentially, until an unexpected fall from grace was sparked by a series of social posts from whistleblowers.
The Wing club’s management and senior-level executives were accused of racial discrimination, LGBTQ+ discrimination, claims of bullying and faux wokeness. Many women who held membership at The Wing have since voiced sympathy for its Founder Audrey Gelman, and in some ways, I do sympathise with her – capitalism isn’t a system that was created in order for women to thrive and clubs like The Wing are using a tried and tested capitalist model that’s worked with membership clubs in the past but just doesn’t gel effectively with the ethos and agenda of what an all-female, all-inclusie club represents.
But are we surprised that a fancy member club for working women – essentially a woke hospitality business – engendered racial and class-based tensions between its members, its management and its staff? Hospitality is an industry built on behaviours, bouncers at doors and established hierarchies, that needs dismantling if a member’s club-cum-coworking space for women can succeed in its aims of inclusivity.
Women’s co-working spaces are essential in my opinion. We should have access to spaces where we feel confident and supported, where we share resources and knowledge with other women so we can smash the Rose Review’s findings out of the water and place more female entrepreneurs at the top. But we need to ensure that these spaces reflect all female entrepreneurs, not just the club that can afford a seat at the table.