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Empowering women in the workplace by excluding men

In 2015, a Canadian mockumentary called No Men Beyond This Point comically painted a world in which men were no longer evolutionary necessary and, as a result, were dying out. Women, it seemed, managed to get along fine without them and ended up not only running every country smoothly, but their work was valued more than men's.

Meanwhile, in the real world, things remain very different. Women continue to work hard to penetrate the C-suite, which remains male dominated and the pay gap persists. Yet, rather than pushing their way for a seat at the table, there appears to be a trend among female entrepreneurs who are just saying no to working with men.

Late last year, a new all-female co-working space launched in New York, called The Wing. It reportedly received 1,300 applications on its opening day. While the Wing didn't respond to an interview request, its website describes its location as a multipurpose space designed to make women's lives easier and that "magic is created when women gather together."

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The concept is not exactly new, but apparently growing in popularity. Closer to home in Toronto, there are a number of designated spaces for women to work independently from men. The question remains: why?

"Women deserve a workspace and culture that empowers and inspires them to be their best and sometimes it's worth building our own table rather than fighting for a seat at a table where we don't really want to be in the first place," said Emily Rose Antflick, founder of Shecosystem, a female-only co-working space that opened in November in Toronto.

The 1,650-square-foot space offers desks, a lounge area, a studio space, a kitchen and meeting rooms. It also offers wellness programs, such as yoga. Currently, it doesn't support childcare – but that's on its agenda.

Co-working spaces, Ms. Antflick explained, have been gaining in popularity over the past decade but they are still perceived as being filled with "app-building bros trying to beat each other out to be the next unicorn (billion-dollar company)"

Women, she observed, don't necessarily see themselves reflected in the competitive and aggressive start-up culture. In fact, Ms. Antflick sees an all-female co-working space as a natural progression of the co-working movement, which is founded on what she calls "feminine values," including openness, accessibility, sustainability, collaboration and community.

"I really believe that if women were in charge, the world of business would look a lot more like co-working," she said.

"Lots of women here have said they feel like they've finally found their tribe," she added.

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Despite being geared to women, Ms. Antflick said the company values inclusivity. "It's not just women who are hurting from our patriarchal workplace culture. Currently, there are two male members, both of whom felt limited by their masculine workplaces and wanted to honour their own feminine energy. Our members are welcome to bring in clients or guests of any gender, but we do have some events that are for women-identified people only," she added.

Women on the Move is another organization in Toronto that caters to female entrepreneurs, with 3,200 square feet of hot desks or workstations shared by different individuals, private offices, conference rooms and dedicated desks as well as event space. Nicola Morgan, vice-president of the company, said that women entrepreneurs want a more sophisticated co-working experience, with champagne and chandeliers rather than beer dispensers and foozball tables.

"An environment that is predominantly female allows women to lean in and speak with greater confidence. We wanted to create and provide an environment for women that would encourage and foster growth, confidence and development, both personal and professional," Ms. Morgan said. She doesn't feel that the lack of men hurt women's chances to get ahead.

"If women want to get ahead they need to have the same skills as men – end of sentence. We help women understand and develop those skills. It is business and men have been at it for a lot longer than women – we are simply speeding up the process of evolution," she said.

Yet, not all advocates for women in business endorse a single-gender workplace.

Ritu Bhasin, president of Bhasin Consulting Inc., a firm that provides leadership and inclusion strategies to global organizations, said she unintentionally has an all-female team and can see the benefits of surrounding herself with women. However, as an advocate for inclusion, she believes having a diversity of thought allows professionals to make better decisions and that only happens when you have different genders at the table.

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"Many workplaces have gender-based silos – the leadership ranks are made up mostly by men, while the entry ranks are largely made up by women. So it may already feel like you're working on a same-gender team," Ms. Bhasin observed.

"However, you'll benefit from working with men by being exposed to different ways of thinking, leading, communicating and motivating others so find ways to work with men, be mentored and sponsored by men, and observe men at work," she advised.

Leah Eichler (@LeahEichler) writes about workplace trends.

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About the Author
Future of Work

Leah Eichler (@LeahEichler) is founder and CEO of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises. More

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