scorecardSome organizations and leaders are trying to make coworking spaces more inclusive. Here's what they say needs to change.
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Some organizations and leaders are trying to make coworking spaces more inclusive. Here's what they say needs to change.

Anmol Irfan   

Some organizations and leaders are trying to make coworking spaces more inclusive. Here's what they say needs to change.
LifeInternational3 min read
  • Coworking companies like The Wing have failed in building truly diverse and inclusive workspaces.
  • Organizations like Coworking IDEA Project and the Haven Collection want to fix this problem.

When The Wing was founded in 2016, it was heralded as a symbol for the modern working woman. But after major faults at the coworking space were revealed last year, including accusations by employees and members of discrimination, mistreatment, and bullying, it quickly lost its facade as an inclusive space for women.

Several leaders and organizations have since made it their goal to solve the issue of diversity and inclusion in coworking, especially as people return to offices after a year-and-a-half of working from home.

"At this moment in time, I do not believe The Wing is reflective of the potential the coworking industry possesses," Andie Washington, the founder of NINON, a consulting company that offers programs, workshops, and events that promote an inclusive, engaged culture, told Insider.

The Coworking IDEA Project, an international collective of coworking organizations and community organizers, carries out its work of building safer and more inclusive workspaces through monthly challenges. Each month's challenge has a theme and aims to motivate organizations to set small, achievable goals when it comes to revamping their policies on inclusion and diversity.

"With challenges what we try to do is think about individual things like, 'How today you could support parents in your space,' and that's one little thing you can do," Ashley Proctor, a founding partner, told Insider, adding that many organizations want to become more inclusive but don't know where to start. "We're giving them very tangible actions and small steps that will ripple out in their communities."

Proctor added that it also makes leaders of coworking spaces question the diversity of the panels they host, as well as whether they're paying their speakers fairly.

"They'll say, 'We can't pay our speakers,' but you have to prioritize," Proctor said. "You have to make more space accessible for people or speakers who couldn't afford to give unpaid time."

To feel safe in a space, people need to feel seen and like the space is open to them. That's what inspired Britt Riley to start the Haven Collection two years ago - a unique twist on coworking that provides, in addition to workspaces, flexible memberships that cater to families, licensed childcare facilities, and fitness facilities.

Before starting the Haven Collection, Riley worked as a marketing agent and frequently attended meetings in coworking spaces, which led her to notice how male-dominated they could be.

"Our whole mission is to level the playing field for parents," Riley said. "While this was a huge issue prior to COVID, the pressure on women has been magnified in the pandemic." One out of 4 women in the US who were unemployed in 2020 noted that the job loss was due to childcare duties.

Joanna Abeyie, the founder and director of Blue Moon, a recruiting firm that aims to make the hiring process more inclusive, told Insider it's important for coworking spaces to consider accessibility beyond the popular use of the term.

People usually think of physical accessibility when talking about making spaces accessible, but Abeyie said it's equally important to take invisible disabilities into consideration.

"It's important to think about how people who are highly sensitive or neurodiverse may use these spaces," Abeyie said. "Providing spaces like working pods that can lessen noise and activity - so that if they are hypersensitive to their surroundings they'll be able to work without feeling like they have to disclose their disability and still have the benefit to be around other coworkers, entrepreneurs, and creatives who are using the space."

Washington also emphasized the importance of centering trans and nonbinary voices. "Listen to them," Washington said. "Pay them for their time and energy. Put them in a position of power and decision-making."

The charm of coworking spaces will soon wear off as remote working and a post-pandemic world make them part of our everyday lives, and that's why Abeyie said we need to look at coworking spaces like any other workspace.

"Putting people through cultural training, being aware of microaggressions and what they look like in the workspace - all the same rules apply in coworking spaces," Abeyie said. "There is something in making sure all staff and all coworkers are aware of some of the differences individuals have, and making sure those are cared for."