Women Who Cowork and The Movement That Inspires Them


posted on August 9, 2016


In honor of International Coworking Day, it is time to celebrate the emergence of creativity and collaboration that has birthed “a new way to work” for today’s entrepreneurs, freelancers, nonprofits and start-ups. And, in honor of what is clearly becoming the year of female leaders, according to a recent Reuters commentary, it is undeniably the ideal time to celebrate the courageous contributions of women to the coworking movement.

So, what is Coworking and why do we celebrate it across the globe on August 9th?

Coworking is a model of shared workspace, designed to inspire serendipitous connections while offering a supportive, collaborative platform from which entrepreneurs can bring their ideas into fruition.

It is a paradigm shift from the “old ways” of working, which often value hierarchy, exclusivity, competition and rigidity. Rather, it is a model built upon a groundwork of 5 core values: Openness, Collaboration, Sustainability, Community, and Accessibility.

In just over a decade, the coworking movement has swept across the globe, inspiring, supporting and accelerating the growth of entrepreneurs. The Spiral Muse, launched in San Francisco by Brad Neuberg, on August 9th, 2005, was the first coworking space of it’s kind, and now 11 years later, according to Small Business Labs 2016 coworking forecast, we are looking at exceeding 10,000 coworking spaces worldwide, by the end of 2016. The percentage of women owned coworking spaces is still very small, possibly hovering around 1%, based on my own informal survey, yet the number of women who are stepping up to lead and launch their own spaces, has been growing steadily every year since 2006.

Indeed, women have been trailblazing this movement of coworking since its inception. Actually, one innovative thought leader, Ashley Proctor, was creating collaborative possibilities as early as 2003 in Toronto, Canada, with the launch of Xspace, then went on to launch Creative Blueprint in 2006 and The Foundery in 2011. Her work didn’t just stop with the creation of coworking spaces, she launched the Coworking Toronto Collective (one of the first in the world) and the Coworking Ontario Collective and was the driving force behind COHIP, the first ever coworking health insurance plan for independent workers across Canada.

The list of pioneering women coworkers continues with  Tara Hunt, who joined Brad Neuberg and a handful of coworking enthusiasts to launch Citizen Space in 2006 in San Francisco. And, not too long after, Minna Vann launched Network Hub in Vancouver, BC that same year.  Susan Dorsch co-founded Office Nomads in Seattle, WA in 2007 and the first coworking space, designed specifically for women entrepreneurs, was launched by Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams of In Good Company in Manhattan, NY (2007-2015).

By 2010, women across Europe, Asia and Australia begin to launch. Jeannie van Linden co-founded deKramer in the Netherlands in 2010, which now has 5 locations. In Asia, Grace Sai introduced coworking in Singapore with the opening of Hub Singapore in 2012. In Australia, Karen Bond opened Newport Net Coworking in Sydney, Australia in 2012.

To support the growing global community, Liz Elam, founder of Link Coworking in Austin, TX, launched and produced The Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) in 2011, which has now become the largest Coworking Conference network in the world. Ashley Proctor, who we met earlier, joined forces with Liz to produce GCUC Canada in 2015.

The number of women founders and co-founders continue to rise and as of August 2016, we have well over 60 coworking spaces, world-wide, with women leaders at the helm.  You can learn more about these spaces in The Global Directory of Woman-Owned Coworking Spaces. 

Why are women leaders joining the coworking revolution?

Simply stated, women leaders are finding the core values of coworking to be a natural fit. In a recent blog post, Emily Rose Antflick, the founder of Shecosytem in Toronto, CA, asserts that these five core values of coworking (openness, collaboration, sustainability, community and accessibility) have been long held feminine traits and values.

According to Antflick, “the paradigm of competition, fragmentation and hierarchical leadership no longer serve us. A more interdependent and collaborative society is the only way toward a more sustainable future. Give us a movement that validates this way of being, give us a structure that facilitates it – and we’ll thrive.”

For a generation of ambitious women, there has been a disconnect between the asserted rise in societal value of female leadership and what they are experiencing in their daily lives. To lead with instinct, receptivity, emotional intelligence, confidence, humility, creativity and connection has been documented as a highly effective leadership style yet finding the business platforms that are ready to embrace, validate and accelerate this type of leader are often rare.

Women leaders are creating their own spaces, expressing their unique leadership styles and cultivating a community of those who share their vision. Many women are discovering that coworking, a model designed to not only embrace a female leadership style, but one inspired by it, is a possible solution to reducing the gender disparity they face in today’s world of business.

More and more, we are seeing the influence of women’s creativity through the programming and structures they are putting forth in their coworking spaces. For example, women are introducing and prioritizing onsite wellness services including yoga, meditation and nap rooms, as well as offering childcare, inspirational interior design and healthy food services.

Women are also introducing the concepts of coworking into a diverse mix of industries, including health and wellness entrepreneurs as in the case of my coworking space, Soma Vida, launched in Austin, TX in 2008, to artists and creatives as in the case of Creative Blueprint, launched by Ashley Proctor in 2006 in Toronto, CA and Social House launched by Laura Seijo McGlynn in Lake Worth, Florida in 2015. Some founders are catering specifically to women entrepreneurs as in the case of Gianna Wurzl and Sheree Rubinstein of One Roof Women in Melbourne, Australia and Culver City, CA. And, some catering especially to mothers as in the case of Tina Nerelli and Stephanie Gambescia Seal of Bizzy Mamas Coworking in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. 

Despite the many ways that a coworking space can be configured, there is a core belief at the center of this movement, one that asserts that we are stronger, more creative, healthier and more balanced when we work in collaboration with one another.

The majority of us, committed to the coworking platform, believe that our future societal challenges will not be resolved through the lens of rugged individualism or dualistic thinking. The path that lies ahead is one that will require women and men working together, dreaming of new possibilities and creating sustainable structures to bring these ideas into being.

International Coworking Day is a time to pause and honor the global community that we are creating. And, specifically, to bring attention to the women who are gifting us with their leadership and sharing their creative force to create the change they desire to see for themselves and for the other women and men they support.

In 1929, when Virginia Woolf wrote of a woman’s need to experience a “room of her own”, I wonder if she could have imagined the magnitude of this desire for the 21st century woman. For now, not only have we declared a room of our own, we have gone on to create multiple rooms and spaces for other women to do their work, to share their passions and to fulfill their purpose.

In Solidarity, dear sisters, I stand beside you and honor you.

*To further this conversation, please join the private Facebook group, Women Who Cowork, to ask for support, share your voice or simply co-inspire one another. To view a working list of women leaders in the coworking movement, please view The Global Directory of Woman-Owned Coworking Spaces.

About the Author

Laura Shook Guzman, LMFT pioneered and revolutionized coworking, almost a decade ago in her home city of Austin, TX. At the heart of her vision lies a deep passion for supporting the emotional, spiritual and physical well-being of entrepreneurs. With the creation of Soma Vida, in 2008, a movement began. A community came together, designed especially to support, inspire and encourage wellness entrepreneurs. As a result, Laura recognized the combination of business, wellness and community as a catalyst to discover our most innate creative expressions.

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