As startups led by women look to gain a more prominent place in the tech world, there are a lot of hurdles to deal with. Unfortunately, tech-based startup culture is still widely dominated by men, from the VCs funding new companies to the low-level programmers making those companies work. This leads to all kinds of specific challenges, including (but not limited to) limited funding, “men’s club” workplace cultures, a lack of access to growth and resources, and even a general sense of being on the outside looking in.
There is no one blanket solution to these problems. But women looking to launch their own startups and succeed in the tech world shouldn’t be discouraged. Even if the numbers behind the gender gap look bad (GeekWire had only 16 women-led companies on its top-200 startup list last year), there has been incremental progress, and there’s nothing preventing any individual woman-led startup from succeeding. Additionally, in the last couple of years one interesting option has emerged in startup culture that could actually help companies led by women to get around some of the common disadvantages: coworking space.
Commonly portrayed as attractive options for freelancers or smaller companies wary of permanent office space, coworking spaces are also proving to be quite appealing for startups. And for the following reasons, they might appeal specifically to some women-led tech startups.
A Lack Of Inherent Gender Bias
In a 2017 article on this very site, we identified gender bias as one of the biggest barriers faced by women in tech, specifically revealing that 39% of women surveyed claimed to have encountered this issue. Frankly, it’s almost surprising that number wasn’t higher; the aforementioned gender gap in tech is inextricably linked to inherent gender bias, which seems to be present in a strong majority of tech companies.
Almost by nature though, such biases cannot be present in a working environment that is not inhabited by a single company. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for a certain imbalance to arise over time in a coworking environment. But the environment itself starts from a place without gender bias, and allows for women-led companies to operate free of the issues such bias can create within other tech companies.
A Valuable Sense Of Community
One of the byproducts of the gender discrimination we see in the tech industry is that some women who are inclined to work in said industry wind up operating more or less independently. They are effectively pushed out of the communal structures of the tech world to work on their own, either as remote contributors or by way of starting their own companies from the privacy of their own homes. Now to some extent that’s how any startup begins. But it can still be incredibly isolating, and that can affect everything from business productivity to personal wellness.
Said a piece in Entrepreneur on the topic of women and coworking, “From the moment you walk in the door of a coworking space, the ample human interaction will remind you that you’re part of something greater.” This indeed speaks to one of the chief benefits of these spaces, which is the sense of community they provide. Any woman who feels excluded from the tech community - or who has voluntarily separated herself from it - can still launch a startup in an atmosphere that feels very much like a thriving social atmosphere.
The Feeling Of Belonging To A Thriving Culture
It’s a given at this point that coworking spaces have become somewhat trendy. However, because they’re still associated with smaller companies and individual freelancers, they can also seem to operate on the periphery of modern industries. This is a misconception; in reality, these companies are thriving in some of the biggest cities and in conjunction with some of the most influential industries in the United States, and for that matter the world.
Consider some of the bigger cities in the U.S. - your Chicagos, your New Yorks, and so on. As pointed out by the folks at Industrious, Chicago is a global economic powerhouse with hundreds of thousands of businesses, and has seen a rise in coworking spaces for those businesses to operate in; Los Angeles and New York City are both home to dozens of individual shared workspace facilities, operated by a variety of different coworking providers. Furthermore, various sources now list numerous massive companies among those making use of these facilities, from Verizon to IBM, which should do away with the impression that they’re somehow more small-time.
What all of this means is that a woman starting a tech business in a coworking space will, in addition to benefiting from the social atmosphere, feel like part of something that’s big, and growing. These are not wide open spaces where individuals freelancers are huddled quietly at desks; they’re pleasantly busy, buzzy workplaces where, as corny as it may sound, there’s a sense of success in the air.
The Chance To Attract Talent & Grow
Another interesting thing about coworking spaces that ought to intrigue any startup operator is that they’ve developed a reputation for fostering growth. It’s unclear what the primary reason for this is, but there are clearly a few factors. For one thing, a business can quite literally scale up within a coworking space, which means there’s no reason not to expand when the time comes. For another, some businesses have success recruiting people from within coworking spaces; it’s not inconceivable that a business owner can stumble across a freelancer in a common area who happens to fill a need. Additionally though, these workspaces are built on the concept of flexibility, which is increasingly a part of the tech industry. According to a write-up at CW Jobs, 84% of employees in tech now have the option to work from home, and a coworking space can provide a similar sense of flexibility.
For these reasons, a woman-led tech startup in a shared workspace can actually enjoy conditions specifically related to growth, whereas it’s clear by this point the same business might have more trouble expanding elsewhere.
All in all, there’s a lot to like about the coworking movement, even if it may not represent the perfect fit for every individual or business. However, because of the factors detailed above, these spaces may prove to be particularly useful for women in tech.