A #MeToo Sensibility in Workspace for Women

01 February, 2019

ModernWell is a shared workspace in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Outside the building, the city is covered with snow and the temperature is well below freezing.

But ModernWell is warm and inviting. Comfortable chairs and footrests surround the warmth of the fireplace. Women work on laptops at tables around the room.

There is not a man to be seen.

That is because ModernWell is one of a growing number of women-only and women-centered workspaces around the country. The increase of such spaces has been linked to the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and similar wrongdoing. The spaces represent a growing desire among many women to build a supportive environment at work that is different from the usual business culture.

Workplaces like ModernWell provide more than just tables, chairs and a coffee maker. They also offer programs, like yoga and other fitness activities, a speakers' series and writing classes.

In this January 16, 2019 photo, writer and editor Camille LeFevre, left, leads a pilates work at ModernWell in Minneapolis.
In this January 16, 2019 photo, writer and editor Camille LeFevre, left, leads a pilates work at ModernWell in Minneapolis.

Renee Powers is a ModernWell member.

"I think women, especially, are craving safe spaces...There's no risk that somebody's literally going to sexually harass me here," Powers said. She established her business, Feminist Book Club, at ModernWell.

The biggest shared work space business is The Wing, which opened in 2016 in New York. It has quickly expanded across the country. Its site in San Francisco, California, opened in October. It includes a conference room named for Christine Blasey Ford. She is the woman who spoke at the Senate confirmation hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. She told the Senate that he had sexually attacked her in high school. Kavanaugh denied the claim and was later confirmed to the court.

Membership to one of The Wing spaces costs $2,350 a year. Company spokeswoman Zara Rahim said the business now has more than 6,000 members.

Most of the spaces permit men, but some do not. The Wing faced legal action by a man in Washington, D.C., who said he was discriminated against. Shortly after, company leaders approved a membership policy that barred sexual identity as a factor in considering admissions. Rahim said the policy was already being developed before the legal action.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights is also investigating The Wing for possible sex discrimination. The company said it is working with the commission.

Another fast-growing space is The Riveter, with five sites in Seattle, Washington, and Los Angeles, California. Another is to open in March in Austin, Texas. And this week, The Riveter announced plans to open five more sites in cities including Minneapolis and Atlanta, Georgia.

Amy Nelson established The Riveter and serves as its chief. She said the majority of members are small businesses with just a few employees, or people who work independently.

The price for membership starts at $99 each month.

About 25 percent of The Riveter's 2,000 members are men, Nelson said. But she said the difference is that "out of the gate, we're putting women first."

"I think that we're seeing a societal shift that isn't going to go away," she said. "Women's voices are being heard."

In this January 11, 2019, photo, women work in a lower-level space at The Riveter, a women-centered shared workspace business in Seattle.
In this January 11, 2019, photo, women work in a lower-level space at The Riveter, a women-centered shared workspace business in Seattle.

The Riveter has brought in famous speakers such as business leader Sheryl Sandberg. It offers activities, such as office hours with a venture capital firm and training on electronics mindfulness or wellness. Such activities set the spaces apart from more general ones, said Steve King of Emergent Research. He studies the future of work and the rise of the independent workforce.

ModernWell founder Julie Burton is a writer and wellness teacher. She leads yoga classes at her space, which also offers events such as a classes on writing about one's personal life.

Burton said her space developed from a women-only writing group she helped form in 2015. After the 2016 presidential election, she said many women she knew were upset. So, she decided to build a business to help women support each other and empower themselves.

"Whether you are out marching or not marching, I felt we had work to do, and I wanted to be part of the work," she said.

The space has given women from different industries and professions a chance to connect, she said.

That community feeling is what appeals some women, said Jamie Russo, director of the Global Workspace Association. She said shared workspaces are on the rise in general. With that rise, difference spaces have developed to serve different groups.

Research by King's firm estimated more than 14,000 co-working spaces and 1.7 million members worldwide in 2017. It predicts there will be about 30,000 spaces and 5.1 million members by 2022.

There is little research information about women-centered spaces. Although they are increasing, they are expected to remain a small part of the industry.

Jasna Burza, a life and business coach, has a home office, but likes to do her work at ModernWell. There, she finds a community of women.

On a recent day at ModernWell, Burza said, "I come here, and it's my happy place."

I'm Caty Weaver.

The Associated Press reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

harass - v. to annoy or bother (someone) in a constant or repeated way

craving - n. a very strong desire for something

literally adv. used to stress that a statement or description is true and accurate even though it may be surprising

factor - n. something that helps produce or influence a result : one of the things that cause something to happen

out of the gate - expression at or from the beginning

shift - n. a change in position or direction

venture capital - n. money that is used to start a new business