Why women-only spaces are here to stay
6 Mar 2018
Last month, The Wing opened its third co-working space in New York. The first two had been in Manhattan with this new, beautifully appointed 10,000 sq ft branch situated in Dumbo, Brooklyn. March will see them fly (sorry) to Washington for their fourth opening, with future sites planned in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s been big news, so what makes The Wing different to every other co-working spaces? It has a female-only membership policy.
The Wing is just one of a number of women-only spaces popping up all over the planet: In London, the Allbright Club will open on 8th March (International Women’s Day, no less) whilst Brighton has One Girl Band; in Paris, the Deli Club provides a platform and space for women in the creative industries; Sao Paulo in Brazil has Feminaria. There’s even an international workspace and accelerator for women, HeraHub, that has locations all over the USA and in Sweden.
“For me it's really about the community that can come out of this space. The original idea of having a space of convenience — but also creating a space that you can meet new women in,” The Wing’s CCO Lauren Kassan told UK Business Insider.
The Wing got a huge membership boost – in the most knuckleheaded and depressing way possible – when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election. They had opened their debut site in Flatiron just the week before. “This was going to be the golden age of women in power, so women could have rooms like this,” The Wing’s CEO Audrey Gelman told UK Business Insider. Clearly this did not happen and overnight The Wing was besieged with calls by women of all professions who weren’t going to take this lying down. On a business level, things have gone pretty well since; The Wing attracted $32 million of Series B funding mostly led by WeWork, and has accrued an 8,000+ person waiting list.
In the UK, London’s Allbright Club will open in the city’s iconic Bloomsbury neighbourhood. Named after America’s first Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, it's an extension of the Allbright Fund and Academy that seeks to provide a collaborative ecosystem for female entrepreneurs. A short train ride towards the coast also sees One Girl Band, an all-female creative collective and workspace in Brighton. Starting by Lola Head in 2015, it’s now a kind-of ground zero for the city’s female creative and entrepreneurial population.
“It’s a base for women to feel comfortable, supported and empowered,” she explains,” Head told The Pool. “I’ve met women who feel that, even if a place is mixed, it’s still quite male-dominated, and they can feel intimidated by the male office culture. My mission definitely isn’t to ‘ban’ all men or never ever let a guy through our doors; it's more about creating a space where women feel they can be 100 percent themselves.”
The latter part of her statement is key: female-only workspaces aren’t so much about saying no to guys, but yes to women. It’s a vital differential and one that we can trace all the way back to childhood: In 2016, research showed that 75% of girls who attended single-sex school achieved five Grade As at GCSE, opposed to 55% in mixed schools.
Gyms have been another growth area when it comes to female-only spaces, with the likes of Grace Belgravia in London, and Uplift and Women’s World Of Boxing in New York. The latter is the city’s first all-female boxing club and provides mentoring boxing programs for teen girls whilst offering women and girls a safe, uplifting and ultimately empowering space to train at all levels.
One issue to be faced by any female-only space is the that of transgender presence. The famous women-only pond on London’s Hampstead Heath recently faced controversy when they decided to explicitly permit transgender access to the pond. The radical feminist group Mayday 4 Women handed out leaflets saying: “Males already have have access to two ponds: the men’s pond and the mixed pond. Why should they have access to three ponds when they already have access to two?”
It’s a fiendishly complex issue which will presumably nag women-only spaces until society makes up its mind regarding transgender people. But – in the age of METOO and the slow (painfully slow) move towards greater parity between the sexes – it won’t stop the rise of these empowering spaces that are destined to create a more productive workforce. Regardless of sex.