Women comprise nearly 47 percent of the U.S. workforce and over 50 percent of the population. Despite the significant contributions they make to the economy, the typical office space doesn't take into consideration the many roles women play inside and outside of the workplace.
So women are expected to "figure it out."
But two female entrepreneurs are pushing back, showing the world what an inclusive and female-friendly workspace can look like. Female founded, funded, designed and led, Women in Kind opened the doors to its Denver coworking space in April of this year.
“It all started with a cold, cold office…,” joked co-founder Virginia Santy.
At the time, Santy and co-founder Melanie Ulle were sharing an office space near downtown Denver where they ran their respective businesses. While the office space was theirs to make their own, there were still many factors outside of their control.
The offices were cold — so cold that Santy kept a sleeping bag under her desk to stay warm. The women also struggled with the male-driven culture of the office building and the lack of amenities for parents and breastfeeding mothers. They knew there had to be a better way to design a space so both women and men could feel valued, heard and supported in their success.
”The fact of the matter is women aren’t the same as men and that difference is not deficiency,” Santy said. “It’s something that can be celebrated and it can also be supported to communicate to women that we do value their contributions in the workplace.”
In November 2016, Santy and Ulle decided to take the leap and make Women in Kind a reality. As Santy put it, they wanted “to build a workplace with women not as the afterthought but as the central, defining feature.”
So the two women started circulating the idea of a female-driven coworking space. Despite rapid and overwhelming support for the idea, Santy and Ulle raised only a small round of funding from three female investors to get the business off the ground.
Ulle and Santy also performed market research, talking to focus groups, distributing surveys and gaining a better understanding of how and why office spaces are designed they way they are. Through that research, the women learned the temperature in many public buildings and office spaces is determined by a formula male engineers created in the '60s — a formula that’s calibrated for men’s bodies.
Bearing these findings in mind, Ulle and Santy got to work, partnering with local design firm NEOStudio to realize their vision. Today, Women in Kind offers light, open and welcoming spaces; a safe and secure environment; separate childcare and play areas; free and accessible parking; meal services; locker rooms; a running club and community fitness classes; and laundry services. And though the space is geared toward women, men are welcome — and encouraged — to office there as well.
In addition to physical amenities, community members are also provided opportunities for professional and personal development, through initiatives like investment clubs and informational workshops about topics such as closing the wealth and wage.
Right now, Women in Kind is staying “lean and mean” to grow the business, but Santy admitted plans to bring similar for-women-by-women coworking spaces to other cities. They’re targeting markets where there’s a large population of female entrepreneurs but a lack of resources to support those women, both in work and in life.
“We want to shift the conversation and make sure that if you really want great women, who are working with you at your company or contributing to the local economy in amazing ways, then you have to see them and value them and give them these mechanisms for their success.”