Coworking has been in the headlines lately, thanks to the popularity of big brands like WeWork (and the antics of WeWork’s now ex-CEO Adam Neumann). But I’ve been more intrigued by the assent of female-focused coworking spaces with women at the helm, like CEO Audrey Gelman from The Wing. Last fall, Gelman was the first visibly pregnant CEO to appear on the cover of a business magazine.
Stories about other mom-focused coworking spaces also came into my leisure listening as journalist Katherine Goldstein featured a mom-focused coworking space in her podcast The Double Shift. While intrigue was my first reaction, my second reaction was, “Why didn’t these spaces exist for me a few years ago when my kids were younger and I really, really needed them?”
It’s this unmet need helping to build the business case for these spaces. Last year, a female-focused coworking space opened in my town, and I was eager to check it out. I’ve been back a few times and want to share what I’ve learned and what’s special about these businesses.
While intrigue was my first reaction, my second reaction was, ‘Why didn’t these spaces exist for me a few years ago when my kids were younger and I really, really needed them?’
I spoke with Alyssa Cairns, co-founder of momHIVE, a coworking and community space with childcare for women in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She and her cofounder started the business with their own needs in mind. Cairns, a mom-of-two and a small business owner, experienced first-hand the juggles and struggles of motherhood—from managing childcare to household duties while trying to build a business, especially when working from home. As she put it bluntly, “Sometimes it feels like you don’t get your brain back until your kids turn 2 … unless you can be away from them.” I had to laugh and agree.
But Cairns and the other female-focused coworking founders have hit upon an insight beyond relieving the burden of childcare. It’s the power of women to lift other women up. In my short time in the coworking space, I’ve eavesdropped on conversations including two women discussing a difficult personality, “Well, his job is to crush your soul, my job is to uplift you and your growing business.” In another corner, one mom was commiserating about raising twins with another mom between business calls.
I’m currently reading Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project and I highlighted and underlined this sentence from her research, “The most reliable predictor of not being lonely (for men and for women) is the amount of contact with women. Time spent with men doesn’t make a difference.” New motherhood can be especially lonely, and being surrounded by other mothers in the trenches or who’ve been there is yet another benefit of these women-only spaces.
Of course, female coworking spaces can have measurable business benefits beyond camaraderie. Marketer and mom of 2-year-old twins, Megan Dimmer has both grown her business and her staff while working at momHIVE. “My business has grown from just me to 5 contractors and 15 clients,” says Dimmer, “I am deeply thankful for the owners’ courage to change the narrative of what it means to be a woman in the workplace. This is much more than office space for me; it is a community that is there to keep me accountable, encourage me, and share networks to help my business grow.”
In my short time in the coworking space, I’ve eavesdropped on conversations including two women discussing a difficult personality [at work] … In another corner, one mom was commiserating about raising twins with another mom between business calls.
Cairns’ vision for growing her own business stems from the fact that business is built for a 1960s family structure that’s no longer the norm in America—one where a sole male breadwinner earned the income for the family while the other parent stays home with the children. According to a study published in the Wall Street Journal, there is now no dominant family structure. For example, there are now as many married male-only earner households as there are single-mother single-earner households.
Unfortunately, the workplace culture and systems haven’t shifted as American families have.
If Cairns can make the business case to organizational leaders to offer her coworking space as a ramp-up or remote work alternative when their female employees are new moms, she can not only help businesses retain their female employees but also help shift the overall workplace culture.
“I’m lucky I’ve been able to start this business, and when you come from a place of privilege, you need to do what you need to do to get your business off the ground, and it’s our plan to do it with the purpose and the intention to help change the culture of work for all women,” Cairns said.
My individual coworking cost/benefit is still one I’m weighing versus the virtual no-cost of working from home, but here’s what I know after spending time at a mom-focused coworking space: I made connections with sources for multiple articles here at The Everymom, I worked at peak productivity while I was there, and I enjoyed spending my day in such a pretty space, away from the distractions of home.
Plus, when the kids from childcare were released and ran downstairs, I couldn’t help but smile at the reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing thanks to the cacophony of tiny, excited, voices exclaiming, “Mommy!”