As dedicated women-only workspaces hit the UK, female entrepreneurs explain how they are making the most of a room of their own.
According to the Small Business Labs Co-Working Forecast, the number of people renting co-working spaces will grow globally from just under 1m in 2016 to nearly 4m in 2020. And the latest trend within this is dedicated women-only spaces.
Already popular in the US (think the She Works collective and The Wing in New York, and Hera Hub in California), the idea is taking hold in the UK.
Lola Hoad set up her Brighton-based female entrepreneur network One Girl Band in 2015. She says: “I was a year into running my business, LH design, and was realising more and more how important it was to have a ‘tribe’ of people in similar fields who just got it.
“When you run your own business with no team members, you can spend days not having uttered a word to any other human, and you start to crave having colleagues.”
To begin with, Hoad connected with a number of like-minded women on social media. “I knew I needed to get these amazing females in the same room, in real life, and together,” she says. So she hosted a meet-up in a tiny restaurant in Brighton and found the demand for a female-only workspace was huge.
Now One Girl Band is a dedicated space for female creatives and small business owners who are tired of working from home on their own and crave some interaction from someone other than the postman. It is, says Hoad, “for freelancers, designers, writers, developers, start-ups – anyone who can work remotely. It’s a space where females can be 100% themselves and create successful businesses in an empowering, supportive and reasonably priced environment.”
One Girl Band currently has monthly meet-ups as well as expertise sessions where an industry professional comes in and talks about their subject. Hoad aims to open up three more spaces around the country. She says: “We have such a great community of entrepreneurs, both online and offline.”
Support, safety and community
“If you’re a woman in business, chances are you face similar struggles and challenges that other women in business face, so that sense of unity and understanding creates an environment of support, safety and community,” says Hoad.
Frances Stephens, whose eponymous weaving company employs more than 40 women in Swaziland, is a member of the One Girl Band tribe. She says: “When Lola said she was thinking of setting up a co-working space, I jumped at the chance. It’s an amazingly positive space. I’ve never been around people who are so prepared to help and encourage each other, and it is the most empowering thing to experience.”
Collaboration not competition
Like all co-working spaces, the business benefits are obvious. Hoad says: “You could be a freelance copywriter, and another member could be a clothes designer who needs some help with her product copy.”
For Stephens, she believes it’s a more relaxing environment. “Also, in my opinion, women are often more collaborative, and men are often more competitive. There are benefits to both, of course, but in a business environment I like collaboration rather than competition.”
For some, the benefits have been unexpected. Stephie Woolven of StephieAnn Design moved out of a very corporate working environment into One Girl Band and says: “I wanted somewhere that suited me creatively, was friendly and welcoming. Now I feel like I’m part of a unique, fully fledged girl gang.”
“It’s an amazingly positive space. I’ve never been around people who are so prepared to help and encourage each other, and it is the most empowering thing to experience”
Frances Stephens, founder, Frances Stephens
Charlotte Ashton’s work environment is 100% female, but it didn’t start with that intention. She co-founded AB Property Marketing (ABPM) with her friend Amanda Sharples in 2005 from a bedroom in Surrey, and the company grew to a team of six and an office in West London. She says: “We have employed 16 people in total over the years, 14 of whom have just happened to be women.”
Ashton, who works with male contractors and freelancers, adds: “It wasn’t a conscious choice per se to have a female-only workplace, but it seemed to naturally develop that way. It helped that both founders were female and our first employee was a mum who wanted part-time hours, which suited us well at that time.”
A structure for equal opportunities
For Laura Devine, the female dynamic was entirely deliberate. Her boutique firm, Laura Devine Solicitors, is regularly ranked as one of the top immigration law firms in the UK and has an all-female partnership across offices in London and New York. She says: “I’ve consciously set out to create a structure that provides opportunities for female lawyers and other staff to advance. In our sector, few leading firms achieve even a 50% female partnership. When I set up the firm in 2003, I wanted to set an example, showing anyone entering the profession that female partners, lawyers and support staff can be as effective, exceptional and successful as their male peers.”
Practical examples of the benefits the firm provides include in-house exercise classes, physiotherapy, visits from a chef to demonstrate healthy eating, and, crucially, says Devine: “What we call friendly working practices – as opposed to ‘family’ friendly as many exceptional employees who want to have some flexibility in their work do not have families.”
The result, she says, “is a happy, confident team of exceptionally talented professionals, providing outstanding client service and displaying outstanding levels of loyalty as shown in our extremely high retention rates”.