Differentiating a Coworking Offering with a Female Focus

Amy Nelson, CEO of workspace provider The Riveter, speaking at the one-year anniversary of one of the company’s Seattle locations. (Kailee Elizabeth Photography)

“There is a workspace and workplace revolution happening across the U.S.” that needs to address the needs of everyone who works there, said Amy Nelson, founder and CEO of the Riveter, in a session at ULI Arizona’s Trends Day, held in January at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge in Phoenix.

The Riveter is a fast-growing company focused on “female-forward” coworking spaces built by and for women that also welcome all genders. Since the launch of the Riveter in 2017 in Seattle, the Riveter’s coworking spaces have expanded to two other locations in Seattle and two in and around Los Angeles. The Riveter’s sixth project, in 12,000 square feet (1,100 sq m) of redeveloping space near the Market District in Austin, “will launch in March, and we will go national quickly,” said Nelson, who is looking at opening offices in other U.S. cities.

“Today,” said Nelson, “designers and builders are asking what kind of space is connected and supports workers? What kind of space and location fosters innovation and encourages us to think bigger and bolder?” Workspaces have evolved with new flexibility from the cubicles of the past and greater attention to staff morale and workplace environment, she said, which has led to “many fun things like ping pong tables and beer on tap.”

But many of these workplaces have been designed with men in mind, said Nelson, and until a few months ago, none of the national coworking companies that emerged over the past decade had a woman on its board. While not exclusive to women, she said, the Riveter coworking spaces are designed and programmed to provide women with access to spaces, amenities, and events they might need to accelerate their businesses and professional lives. The Riveter’s coworking offices include quiet spaces for meditation and for mothers to nurse babies, for example, as well as programming and events that offer guidance, mentoring, culture, and inspiration to women. Membership benefits include free feminine products and nontangible perks like partnerships with child care providers.

As a leader of President Obama’s Gen44 fundraising team and as a Wall Street corporate litigator, Nelson said she didn’t question women’s ability to achieve equitable professional opportunities until she became pregnant with the first of her three daughters (a fourth is on the way). She said her experience inspired her to start her company, named for Rosie the Riveter, a woman depicted in World War II–era propaganda posters supporting the war effort. By the end of the war, she said, women were 60 percent of the U.S. defense industry workforce, compared with only 1 percent before the war. The U.S. government and shipbuilding companies built thousands of highly subsidized child care centers to allow American women to work, but that support ended when the war ended.

Nelson said that ongoing barriers to equity in pay and professional advancement for women include the lack of child care, family leave, and investments in startup businesses. Women receive only 2.2 percent of venture capital dollars, she noted, while women of color receive just 0.2 percent of venture-capital investments.

“Building community is essential in workplaces today,” she said, adding that despite various efforts to build workspaces for all, almost half the workforce—including women, single mothers, immigrants, and LGBTQ people—may not feel welcome sharing their whole identity at work. She advised employers to institute four essential support efforts. The first is to define what inclusion means to their company. “To me and the Riveter,” she said, “that means putting inclusion to work.”

Second, “it’s important to go beyond the minimum that is required by the law” to develop workspaces that provide what women and others need to succeed, including true accessibility for disabled workers, gender-neutral bathrooms, appropriate places for mothers to breastfeed, and prayer rooms for those who worship daily.

“Belonging requires us to show our employees that they have a seat at the table and belong there. How do we welcome people into these spaces? These things matter.”

Third, ensure inclusive family-friendly company policies, so that single moms, for example, are not at a financial disadvantage regarding travel and child care costs. This could mean providing child care in the workplace or partnering with child care providers. “Policies can always be rewritten to cover as many employees as possible,” she noted.

Finally, develop spaces for public interaction that helps create community. Pinterest, for example, engages in local outreach with women entrepreneurs and nurtures relationships with schools. At the Riveter, she said, “we do wellness pop-ups of retail that’s locally sourced and created by women. We bring people into our workspace, the spaces we build that tell the world who we are.”

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