A space of one's own: how women are forging a new way of working

A space of one's own: how women are forging a new way of working

Once upon a time, “boys’ club” operated as a noun; now it functions more like a slur. In these new times — times of #MeToo and a pantomime villain of a pussy-grabbing President — the term conjures a sense of exclusivity and purchased privilege. It suggests status quo, not forward motion; it calls to mind a subtext of misogyny — like a stag do, but in suits. Time’s up on alpha culture.

But change leaves a power vacuum. And while all-male networks recede into the shadows, shamefaced, the fairer sex’s versions are becoming a potent movement. In the past couple of years, as women have fought for a new standing — politically, socially, professionally — a lattice of female networks has been spreading through cities and cyberspace, symbolic of progress, with female-driven agendas to set and the power to unsettle the old guard.

In the past year the AllBright has become a cornerstone of the capital’s high-flying, female business community. The UK’s first women-only members’ club was founded by businesswoman Debbie Wosskow and Anna Jones in March last year and currently resides in a four-storey Georgian townhouse in Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia, furnished with monochrome sofas and French-style bistro tables, and hosting meeting rooms, a bar, a salon and a small gym. Annual membership costs £1,150 (£750 if you’re under 30).

The AllBright has recently announced it will open a second London space in Maddox Street, Mayfair, in spring, and a site in West Hollywood in the summer. Upcoming events at the original club include a “Galentine’s” party and a talk about fertility. 

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“Physical spaces are a necessity for female founders in the UK today,” explain Wosskow and Jones. “During our research, 32 per cent of female founders or aspiring female founders told us they need a place to work to launch or grow their business. Of those, 27 per cent described themselves as ‘nomads’ — they currently use co-working spaces or coffee shops; 33 per cent said they needed a more professional environment to conduct business or meet clients; and 19 per cent said it’s impossible to get anything done in their current environment — there are too many dis-tractions or competing demands, which means they simply can’t focus.”

Moreover, the clubs allow women to find role models. “There’s still a dramatic con-fidence gap between men and women in the workplace, most notably amongst those in their mid-twenties and thirties.” This idea — that female networks can make women feel more confident and powerful, is also one of the cor-nerstones of retail guru Mary Portas’s book Work Like a Woman. The book was the thinking woman’s stocking filler for Christmas 2018.

Meanwhile, in the US, there is The Wing — tagline: “Your throne away from home” — which started out as a co-working space for women in New York’s Flatiron district, located, neatly, on Ladies’ Mile. It now has three clubs in New York, one in Washington DC, one in San Fran-cisco and one in LA — with others coming to Chicago, Boston, Toronto, Seattle and London later this year.

Audrey Gelman of The Wing (Getty Images for Glamour) It’s younger than the AllBright, and its crowd more creative: the branding is millennial pink, and the clubhouses are bedecked with neon slogan lights (“personal space”) and colour co-ordinated bookshelves (catnip for Instagram — The Wing has almost 340,000 followers). Its SoHo outpost in Lower Manhattan has a lactation room and a “Little Wing” for members’ children; the DC clubhouse has a dedicated meditation room.  The Wing was co-founded by Lauren Kassan and Audrey Gelman, an alumna of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, who in another life had a recurring cameo in childhood friend Lena Dunham’s Girls. In late 2017 it raised $32 million to pursue its growth; its investors include WeWork. It now has more than 5,000 members — including Dunham and Glossier founder Emily Weiss. Annual membership costs more than £2,000 a year.  "Branches of The Wing have spaces for members’ children and dedicated rooms for meditation." Phoebe Luckhurst Granted, with such restrictive membership fees, both could be accused of creating a room of one’s own only for a certain demographic of fairly privileged feminists. Wosskow and Jones emphasise that the AllBright runs a 10-week, free digital programme designed to equip women with practical business skills: “Applicants simply need access to a computer and wi-fi.” The Wing has an in-house historian — obviously — called Alexis Coe, who produces an (excellent) podcast series called No Man’s Land, spotlighting forgotten and misunderstood women in history. It’s free and accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a set of headphones. The Wing’s philanthropic arm works with women’s charities — including Black Girls Code, The Legal Aid Society and Women’s Prison Association. Nonetheless, cyber networks are a more democratic space — and they’re popping up everywhere. Take any industry in the capital — be it a law firm, an ad agency or a bank — and you’ll find a driven group of eloquent, impassioned female agitators communicating via a newsletter or a guerrilla WhatsApp group. “Some industries will need them more than others, but if a women’s network is a space that enables women to be honest about their challenges and share advice, then what industry wouldn’t benefit from that?” says Ella Horne, one of the three founding members of  The Flip [Female Leadership in Publishing], a new newsletter for women that spotlights industry leaders and directs subscribers to interesting events. “Opening up access to the advice of brilliant women is one way to create positive change,” she adds. Horne, who works in marketing at publishing house Transworld, started The Flip last month with Sophie Christopher and Helena Gonda, who work at Penguin Random House and Transworld respectively. The trio would have been “quietly pleased” if their passion project reached 2,000 people by the end of the year — it’s already got more than 3,000 subscribers.  Advertising women have Bloom UK, whose last event in November took place in a marketing agency in Brick Lane, and included panels on pay, privilege and parental leave, and a keynote speech from high-profile, barnstorming campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.  The Second Source is journalism’s answer — a network established by female journalists in the turbulent wake of #MeToo, which provides mentorship for female journalists navigating an industry still fuelled on testerone. The Coven Girl Gang, set up by Sapphire Bates, is part network, part- business incubator, pitched at fledgling female entrepreneurs. It now has almost 17,000 members on Instagram. Membership — which starts at a democratic £13 a month — grants you access to online workshops teaching skills including branding and marketing, and there are downloadable business plans and a business book club. The Instagram account deals in snappy memes (Mean Girls) and inspirational quotes. Bates thinks of it as a “sisterhood”.  Debbie Wosskow and Anna Jones of AllBright (Natalie Williams) Similarly, powerhouse beauty entrepreneur Sharmadean Reid launched Future Girl Corp in 2016, with a mission to “support the next generation of future female CEOs and business leaders”. It hosts panels and workshops on how to write a business plan and how to get your idea in the public eye.   Even Bumble, the “feminist” dating app that was launched in December 2014 as a retort to the misogyny of Tinder, now goes beyond swiping. It has started a business networking platform (Bumble Biz) and has launched a fund for female movie-makers, The Female Film Force, which in August awarded £20,000 to five projects — the films were screened at a showcase in London last month.  “Expanding into business networking was alway part of our overall vision,” explains Bumble’s founder, Whitney Wolfe Herd. “Misogyny and an im-balance in gender dynamics existed well beyond dating, but dating is where we felt we could have the strongest impact at launch. Once our brand, mission and message began gaining traction in the dating space we expanded into friendship and networking within two years. We’re building a digital world with women in mind and that’s never been done before.” Find your tribe in London’s new club culture By Samuel Fishwick If you don’t qualify for London’s new wave of women’s clubs but still can’t stand the stuffiness of an exclusive dress code, relax — there are plenty of alternatives to the city’s more venerable institutions.

Second Home

Best for: those looking to expand their horizons.

Former government adviser Rohan Silva runs four co-working spaces in Spitalfields (pictured), Holland Park, London Fields and Clerkenwell Green, plus branches in Lisbon and LA. The clubs attract a broad range of businesses, from venture capital firms to designers, NGOs and environmental companies, and there is a social mission to nurture entrepreneurship and encourage collaboration. A cultural programme spans everything from cookery classes to dinners supporting refugees.

Membership from £185 a month (secondhome.io) 

Home Grown 

Best for: bosses without a boardroom.

Be the boss in a “dedicated pitching suite”, a 20-seat boardroom for hire with plasma TVs, state-of-the-art whiteboards and treetop views of Portman Square. 

Membership from £1,000 a year (homehouse.co.uk) 

The Ministry 

Best for: the music biz.

A co-working space in SE1 from the team behind Ministry of Sound, with a focus on sound production and technology. Turn up the volume in noise-proof production suites, enjoy the cinema and “secret” tequila bar. 

Membership from £70 a month (theministry.com)

Cuckooz Nest

Best for: new parents.

This Farringdon club helps entrepreneurs who need childcare, with 21 Ofsted-registered nursery places for newborns to two-year-olds, and 36 desk spaces, at an extra £6.08 an hour. 

Membership from £20 an hour (cuckooznest.co.uk)

Maggie & Rose 

Best for: kids of CEOS.

There’s a three-month waiting list for these clubs in Kensington, Islington and Chiswick, for good reason. A children’s café, jungle gym and vintage train set make this the perfect spot to park the kids. 

Membership from £75 a month (maggieandrose.com) More about: | Careers | career | Women | Women's rights | Gender | Member's Clubs