Overturning a Man’s World: How Coworking Supports Women - Part 2

Overturning a Man’s World: How Coworking Supports Women - Part 2

There are many films from the early 2000s period that capture the nuances of workplace sexism, particularly when we view it through a contemporary lens. However, none portray it quite so aptly as the comedy What Women Want starring Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson. 

Nick Marshall, the lead character played by Gibson, portrays a chauvinistic womaniser who is suddenly able to hear women’s thoughts. As the story unfolds, he gains a deeper understanding of women’s experiences. Despite the comedy’s lightheartedness, it exposes age-old norms that are deeply ingrained in workplace cultures. 

The film’s conclusion reminds us of the need for empathy and communication in the workplace, which deeply resonates with the inclusive and flexible nature of the coworking model of today. In this follow-up to the recent blog post, Overturning a Man’s World, we continue an exploration of how coworking supports women.

Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace 

One of Marshall’s main discoveries is learning about the many insecurities that his female coworkers face. It’s not shocking given that before the 1970 Equal Pay Act was passed, women couldn’t join trade unions, were paid significantly less than their male counterparts, and had fewer rights (being seen as dependents of the male head of their household). 

In recent years, women have faced many challenges in the workplace ranging from underrepresentation to downright sexual harassment. According to Bloomberg, until April this year, there were more CEOs named John than women. There are now 41 female CEOs at the helm of S&P500 companies. Despite these wins, the gender pay gap has still never closed, and the Office for National Statistics recently announced that for full-time employees, the gender pay gap is at 7.7%, rising only slightly from 7.6% in 2022. 

The historic underrepresentation of women at work has led many to suffer from imposter syndrome, and constantly question: ‘Am I good enough?’ According to KPMG, ‘75% of executive women have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their career’, with 74% of women surveyed believing that their male coworkers ‘don’t experience feelings of self-doubt as much.’ 

“Don’t remove yourself from the room because you think you shouldn’t be there,” says Katrina Larkin, co-founder at Fora and Chief ESG Officer at The Office Group at a recent panel discussion on women in the flexible workspace industry hosted at Huckletree White City, a Nexudus customer, and the Flexible Space Association. The event saw women on the female-only panels sharing advice and stories about their experiences navigating the world of work. It made other women in the audience feel seen, heard and understood. 

Improving access to opportunities 

The flexible nature of coworking and its thriving social calendar can give women greater access to opportunities by facilitating events, programmes, and workshops that bring the female community together to explore shared experiences. Inviting women to speak on panels in front of an audience helps women gain confidence and gather assurance that their voice matters. 

But, not all women have been given a level playing field: “Gender is intersectional, and women as a group are truly diverse. Policies that benefit white women, for example, may not benefit women of colour due to historical or current inequities. A shift from gender equality to the process of gender equity is required for meaningful progress,” explains an article differentiating equality and equity. 

Access to opportunities must be improved. With many more workspaces located in outer city areas, consider the opportunities for a wider and more localised community. Open the workspace doors to people who otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to experience a professional workplace or network with business owners in your community. Some shared workspaces also offer accelerators and programmes for underrepresented individuals, an example being Impact Brixton’s Impact Xchange Programme

Mothers too may struggle to access opportunities when balancing a career with childcare obligations (as women are typically default caregivers). As touched upon in the last piece, the flexible nature of local coworking spaces can benefit women at all life stages, including supporting women with fragmented time and family commitments. The coworking industry is experiencing a rise in workspaces that offer childcare facilities, for instance, Oru Space, will be opening a nursery alongside its wellness amenities at its second workspace in Sutton, to support a community that’s largely made up of young working parents. 

People, place, and purpose 

Establishing core values around diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI), as well as accessibility place purpose at the heart of the coworking mission. Flexible workplaces have a responsibility to establish guiding principles that attract and resonate with the types of coworkers and companies that come into the workspace, building a stronger and more empathetic community in the process. 

A coworking space can also facilitate a safe space through its workspace design, evoking a sense of homeliness and comfort when someone walks through the door. The Hearth in Finsbury ‘supports women on their personal journey…[as] a kind, safe, and accepting space, where women are free to be, grow, and focus on what’s important.’ Although it facilitates coworking, The Hearth has opted for soft sofas and cushions, and its walls are adorned with art, which exemplifies a place of safety and inclusion. 

Marketing Director, Laurie Dennard, explains that “the flexible workspace is an antidote to” the traditional, ‘intimidating’ corporate office world, applying brighter colours in spaces that ‘blends the professional with comfort, with spaces to break out, collaborate and concentrate.’ She explains how softer furnishings and wellness amenities are exemplary too. Our last piece on this topic explored the impact of an inclusive workspace design, from purging the beer taps (a “symbol of patriarchy at work”) to having more bathrooms. 

It’s now standard practice to provide free sanitary products in bathrooms, meaning no more dashes to the local shop or subtly tucking away a tampon to make a run for the toilet unnoticed by male coworkers, as a result of the stigma attached to periods. Offering free sanitary products is a simple and subtle notion of support to your female community. 

As the Suffragette movement advocated for “deeds, not words,” the coworking industry too ought to live and breathe inclusive values, rather than just ticking a box, in its efforts to support female communities. This can be achieved by giving women a platform and greater access to opportunities, whilst recognising that not all women have access to the same things and designing a safe space with the amenities and resources women need to thrive in the workplace and their professional lives.

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