The History of Female-Focused Coworking Spaces

When Hera Hub opened its doors, it became one of the first ever female-focused coworking spaces dedicated to helping female businesses and female entrepreneurs. Since then, similar spaces have opened all around the globe. In a world where equal pay and equal treatment are issues that receive quite a bit of attention, coworking spaces that aim to support and champion female freelancers and female-led startups can be invaluable.

The history of coworking is not a long one. Coworking spaces emerged in the early 2000’s and were spaces that banished traditional ways of working and focused on community and collaboration with like-minded individuals in non-traditional office environments. Hera Hub, along with a handful of other pioneers, continued this new coworking tradition by creating a new kind of coworking space geared towards women. These female-focused spaces gave female freelancers and entrepreneurs a comfortable place to work, share ideas and have access to a variety of business resources and opportunities.

After recognizing the need for a space which combatted the isolation and distractions of working from home, Hera Hub Founder, Felena Hanson came across the concept of coworking. While looking for event spaces, she happened upon In Good Company, a women-focused coworking space founded in 2008 in New York City. Excited about the concept, she flew to New York, bought a day pass and worked in their location. Hanson, realizing the need combined with her dedication to serving entrepreneurial women, new what she needed to do.

In 2011, Hera Hub’s first location opened its doors. It was the first of its kind, a coworking space specifically aimed at giving women entrepreneurs and freelancers a space to connect and collaborate, in a unique, spa-inspired setting.

In the time between the first official coworking spaces opening in 2005 and Hera Hub opening, coworking was still young but rapidly expanding. At the time, the number of coworking spaces was doubling each year. In 2010, there were around 600 coworking spaces worldwide, and by 2011 there would be almost twice as many. Hera Hub being one of them. The exponential growth of coworking offered a new kind of work environment and would go on to inspire many others to create similar concepts.

In 2012 Hera Hub expanded with its second location in Mission Valley to serve the central San Diego area. The next year a Hera Hub Carlsbad was opened to in North County San Diego. The quick expansion signaled a genuine need for spaces which focused on providing resources, education, and community for women business owners. In doing so, Hera Hub had set off its branch of coworking history.

In 2014, several female-focused spaces opened their doors. The Hivery established itself in the Bay Area in early 2014 with The Hive* in Philadelphia, launching shortly after. Grace Kraaijvanger, founder of The Hivery, aimed to empower women with a ‘hyper-stylish’ workspace and events. Similarly, Melissa Alam, the Hive’s founder, wanted to provide a space that focused on female entrepreneurs who would be otherwise isolated working from home or coffee shops.

The idea of female-focused spaces was not solely restricted to the US, however. In Singapore, Michaela Anchan set up Woolf Works* – an all-female coworking space, named after Virginia Woolf – to offset the tech-heavy coworking spaces in the city and provide an affordable space for female freelancers and home-workers.

The following two years, New York saw a burst of female-focused workspaces opening up. The first was SheWorks Collective*.  In 2015, after trying to start a new business while working from home with a young child Joanna Black opened SheWorks Collective. She repurposed a loft space in Union Square into an eighteen-desk coworking space. The following year, New Women Space opened its doors in Brooklyn, and The Wing opened in Manhattan.

New Women Space is a community space with classes, workshops, and events with a desire to empower ambitious women and help them forge businesses relationships. Sandra Hong and Melissa Wong opened the space after quitting their jobs, investing their own money as well successfully raising $17,000 through a successful crowdfunding campaign. At a similar time, The Wing’s Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan were aiming at recreating the women’s club movement of the early 20th century in modern New York. They opened their first penthouse space to a group of 200 members. Demand for such a space was high as thousands of women soon joined a waiting list to become members.

In 2016, Ana Moreira, having been a victim of sexism in the corporate world, set up Casa Feminaria in Brazil. As a legal consultant, she offered free consulting services to the members of the women-only coworking space, which also acts as an incubator thanks to a team of advisors and consultants.

At this time, there were around 3,900 coworking spaces in the US with approximately 20 to 25 of those specifically for women. It is worth noting, though, that the notion of female-only or female-focused spaces was not an entirely new idea. The female coworking space indeed was new, but female clubs weren’t all that new and thrived in the early 20th century. In 1906, there were over 5,000 women’s clubs in the United States.  These spaces were often political hubs, aiming at social reform around issues like women’s suffrage, education, legal reform, and child labor. Today, female-focused coworking spaces remain and still strive to neutralize gender inequalities in the world of business.

In 2017 many cities across North America were also introduced to female-focused coworking spaces. In St Louis, RISE Collaborative Workspace opened their doors; in Seattle, The Riveter was founded; and, in Toronto, Make Lemonade became the city’s first of its kind and Bloom Las Vegas made its way to Sin City. Like Hera Hub, The Riveter and Make Lemonade were not female-only, but female-focused – in 2018, 80% of Riveter’s members were female and Make Lemonade would accept male coworkers as long as they aligned with the brand’s core values.

2017 and 2018 were critical years for female-focused coworking spaces in the UK. The Blooms Business Club in London became the UK’s first in 2017, offering an on-site crèche, mentoring sessions and access to a supportive community of female startup founders. Blooming Founders, London’s largest female-oriented entrepreneur network, launched the business club.
That same year, Layla Rivelino set up We Heart Mondays*, a small women-only coworking space in East London. In 2018, after setting up a funding and support platform for female founders, Anna Jones and Debbie Wosskow opened AllBright. The women-only private members club already had 400 members – carefully selected to ensure a diversity of professions, ages, ethnicities, and experience – when they opened.

Today, there are too many female-focused coworking spaces to name. Sometimes controversial, sometimes female-focused, sometimes female-only, each plays a part in continuing the legacy pioneered by Felena Hanson, Hera Hub, and many others.

Hera Hub continues to grow at a steady pace. With now six locations in the United States, one in Sweden and more in the works, Hanson is confident that female-focused coworking spaces will continue to find their place in the U.S. and around the globe, giving female entrepreneurs the opportunity to succeed, even in the most male-dominated industries. A community of like-minded, empowering women coming together to collaborate and share resources will play a critical role in bridging the gap and encouraging equality between men and women in the business world.

Note: The list of coworking spaces mentioned above is not comprehensive. Spaces that are no longer in operation have been marked with an asterisk. (*)