One specific type of niche is female-only coworking spaces— they’re on the rise across the country and we discovered it’s more than just a trend. We spoke with two different coworking spaces—Sesh in Houston, Texas and The Coven in Minneapolis, Minnesota (for women and non-binary folks) to see what makes these places special environments for members to thrive. What both of these spaces have in common is that they began with community first and space second. Read on to see why that’s so important, how you can do it, and what women-first spaces have to offer.
Meredith Wheeler, the founder of Sesh Coworking in Houston, Texas started Sesh in April of 2017. She had been stewing on the idea while living in San Francisco when complications with her pregnancy changed her plans to return to work in the hospitality industry. From there it set her on the path to coworking “I needed something so bad,” Wheeler says. “Being a stay at home mom was not in my plan.” She started a blog and wanted something to put her creative energy into. “It’s extremely lonely working from home and I started trying to find a tribe.” She needed people she could bounce ideas off of. “I’m all in my head when I work from home, and it’s just fear itself and the critical side in you that you’re bouncing ideas off of when you work alone.”
She tried joining a coworking group in Oakland but it felt too “broey”—a common sentiment expressed at coworking spaces, often renamed ‘broworking spaces.’ “It didn’t feel like a fit,” Wheeler says.
She moved back to Texas with her family and after her second baby she was still looking for her ‘tribe,’ a group of modern working women to meet and discuss ideas with. She started on Meetup.com, posting a group called “Houston Women’s Coworking Group.” The first meet up had one person, the third had none, the fourth had two people—slowly, piece by piece, more women started attending. She began to finetune her branding and marketing and now Wheeler is working with a broker to find a physical space for her members. She has 15-20 regulars who attend every meeting, with 700 people following Houston Women’s Coworking Group online. It’s become an organized group of female entrepreneurs, freelancers and consultants who gather three times per week to work, empower, inspire and motivate each other.
Wheeler thinks it’s important to keep coworking inclusive to all industries and styles of jobs. “The reason I didn’t want to open it up to everyone was because for women we have less options for us to be with just us.” She realized that most women’s groups revolve around motherhood and leisure, “I really wasn’t finding anything for the working woman who wanted to grow. Because we’re interested in more than those two things [leisure and motherhood] but sometimes it gets boiled down to that.”
She has experienced the effects of women coming together, supporting and encouraging each other, “We have a safe place where we can exist and grow without the limitations that society has put on us. It takes away insecurities that we feel and that can exist,” she says.
In a corporate environment Wheeler felt like she might never succeed and that there were certain games to be played, or ways that women often have to act. Sometimes we don't want to admit they exist, she says, but studies show women speaking up less in boardrooms and meetings. “It’s little things like that,” she says. “It’s just important to have our own space.” Wheeler’s members told her they open up more, feel more creative, and don’t feel insecure when they congregate for meet ups. “They don’t feel like their idea is going to get criticized and it provides space for women to grow and takes away a lot of limitations.”
The other reason, “This might be controversial,” she says. “But men have a lot of control everywhere we are, especially in the corporate sector or other styles of business, of space, and employment. It’s getting better but women exist in all these places that are created and started by men. It’s nice to get away from that and there’s so much growth and potential for women.”
Wheeler will extend this focus to the physical space with mother rooms, lactation stations and other basic needs for moms like locker storage, “I definitely want to provide a locker storage space, especially if women need to bring a carseat in with them, who knows…” She also hopes to offer guided crafts for kids whose mothers are working, “That’s really important to me that child care be included,” she says. Even though such services take longer to plan.
“I started with community first,” Wheeler says. “I think that’s so important because you can have the best space in the world, but if you don't have people to fill it then it’s just a building.” She now has 700 interested followers as potential members when she opens up the physical space.