Men might fit into the popular ideal of what a freelance digital professional looks like. But in the coworking world, women are giving this stereotype a run for its money.
The Global Coworking Survey found that “most coworkers are in their mid twenties to late thirties, with an average age of 34. Two-thirds are men, one third are women.”
But some communities exist in complete opposition to these statistics. And those spaces that are predominantly male are very interested in reaching out to connect with what some consider the untapped freelancing audience: women.
Attracting talented, motivated women to coworking must be done delicately, however. Coworking space owners must not perpetuate damaging perceptions by thinking that a few women-only events and some girly decor will do the trick.
Liz Elam of Link Coworking, a space in Austin, Texas, that enjoys a majority of female members recommends developing services that would attract any hard-working, bread-winning professional: “Coworking is very popular in Austin, women were looking for a space that they connected with and felt comfortable – Link is that space. When women find what they want they tend to tell all their friends so word of mouth has been the primary mode of spreading the word.”
Elam credits Link’s clean, comfortable personality and an emphasis on personal connection with its ability to attract more women members than men. “I’ve visited over 20 Coworking spaces worldwide and I can tell you everything you need to know by looking at their bathrooms and kitchens. When someone comes in, greet them. It’s very un-nerving to interrupt a work environment and first impressions make a huge difference”
For Susan Evans, community manager at Office Nomads, attracting women has more to do with the people who make up the community rather than the space itself.
“Truthfully, I can only say that we attract women into the space by having other women in the space. I think women feel most comfortable when they’re not the only female. I’m pretty sure that it’s easier to bring women into the space when either one or more of the managers/owners/operators of the coworking space is a woman.”
Office Nomads is in a different position from Link Coworking, with only about 30 percent female members. Evans said that what might seem like obvious strategies to introduce female entrepreneurs to coworking aren’t always the smartest.
“In the earlier days, I tried to go to some women-specific networking events, but didn’t find that process all that successful. I have found the best conversations about coworking have just come up in casual conversation with friends or folks at events. I truly believe that the best source of finding other female coworkers is having our current female members out and talking to their friends.”
Rayanne Larsen of Work Spot has also found that reaching out to females in the community at large is a great way to share the message of coworking with ladies who would be an asset to the space.
“I’ve tried to work with women that are in positions in companies/organizations/government/etc. that I think are beneficial for the Work Spot,” said Larsen. “We are right across from city hall and our Mayor is a woman. I recently found out that she has been a teacher and principal for many years. I have been wanting to venture into offering classes (to again, bring more exposure to moms) and asked her to help me develop the program. Since I don’t know the first thing about that area, partnering with someone who does and has influence offers a win-win-win situation.
Another benefit of having women on staff and as part of your core membership is that they can help demonstrate the myriad unique ways that female professionals use coworking to meet their needs.
Women, by their very nature, wear more than one hat at any given time. Women are professionals, moms, sisters, wives, business owners, employees, teachers, students, and leaders. All at once. Finding a way to address more than one of those roles only increases the benefits of becoming involved in your community.
“One interesting (and small) group of our members (I believe one woman and one man) have come in as spouses of medical residents who have relocated to Seattle for their residency,” said Evans. “These spouses (again, not always women) often have negotiated to have flexible jobs, and as they don’t always know a lot of people in the city have enjoyed having our coworking space not only as their work-base, but as their social-base as well. ”
“I have found that I really enjoy putting people and talents together, so I take those that I meet, listen to what they have to say and see where I can bring that back to someone else,” continued Larsen. “I try to partner with women that know things I don’t -which is a lot! I also have been able to utilize my business experience to offer advice or opinions. (I even used my mommy talents by taking care of a member’s son for 2 hours while she conducted a client meeting in our conference room…I can’t imagine that happening over at locations owned predominately by men).”
If you’re a fairly new space, it’s important to think about positioning your brand in a way that will be appealing to members of both sexes. Shelly Leonard of Conjunctured speculates that the way the community presents itself online has a lot to do with its ability to attract female members.
“Actually, offering free day passes and making that pretty prominent on our website has helped us attract the most women,” said Leonard. “In Austin (and by looking at our membership page), I think they get the idea that coworking is primarily male so it helps to come in and actually try it out; get a feel for the space and see if they’ll fit in with the crowd.”
Quick Tips For Attracting Female Members
- Think light, bright and clean when designing or decorating your space.
- Approach each day as if you’re welcoming people into your home.
- Not all events need to be about WordPress or hacking, think of what women in business are interested in!
- Build long-term relationships with women-centric organizations and offer your space for their events.
- Make a point to hire female staff members.
- Empower female staffers and members to speak about coworking to their personal and professional connections.