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Female-focused Coworking in Seattle: How the Riveter Aims to Change Business as Usual for Women

by Cat Johnson

The Riveter is a “female-forward” coworking company launched in Seattle in 2017. Currently in Capitol Hill and Fremont, the Riveter team has plans to expand nationally in the near future.

Serving entrepreneurs, freelancers and remote workers, the Riveter provides woman-focused workspace with flexible memberships—including non-workspace, social membership, professional development and programming events geared toward advancing professional women, and a robust network to tap into. I spoke with Carrie Maher, Riveter’s Head of Growth and Member Experience, about the changing dynamics of doing business, how the Riveter is as much a movement as a coworking space, and how the Riveter community empowers women to take bigger risks in their business.

Cat Johnson: At the heart of the Riveter story is a vision to create a new, fundamentally different way of working for women in business. What does this mean to you and the Riveter team?

Carrie Maher: We see this as going so far beyond the physical space. This is a movement—we are a movement. We are a female-forward workspace and community, changing the dynamic for working women, and we feel we’re doing that by being a hub that provides resources and support for professional women to invite and exceed their ambitions. Whatever phase of life or professional pursuits women have, we’re giving them and their advocates an opportunity to land in a place that provides support.

That takes the form of physical workspace, a virtual platform for our members, and programming and networking that provide the critical skills and knowledge our members want. We support our members with holistic wellness opportunities, childcare partners, dry cleaning discounts, and the like. We’re not looking to create a long laundry list of benefits nobody is going to use. We’re really listening to our members, hearing what they want, and trying to curate benefits that not only align with our mission but that are creating efficiencies and minimizing hassles during their day.

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One of the goals of the Riveter is to support and encourage women in taking bigger risks in their work, including writing a business plan, pitching ideas, raising venture funding and launching companies. Tell me more about that notion of women taking bigger risks. Why is that something you need to put your finger on and say, “This is what we’re going to do?”

That is the driving force of what we’re doing every day. We hear it daily from our members, and every single member of our staff has experienced it: being in a position where we’ve been in a room and perhaps lacked the confidence to move forward based on a position or line of questioning from somebody of the opposite gender. Or being excluded or lacking the professional development mentoring a traditional corporate setting might provide. There are also funding issues that our members have faced: only 2.19% of VC funding goes to women, which is staggering. We know we don’t have only 2.19% of the good ideas.

Women are building businesses five times faster than the national average. And 83% of millennial women are interested in starting their own businesses. Female-led businesses statistically perform better than male-run companies. We all know the current research on the alternative workforce and its impact on coworking. The economics of this are easy to see. We believe it’s apparent, so how do we leverage that? The numbers don’t lie: there’s a lack of women in leadership roles and lack of funding opportunities and support to get there.

We want equality, but that doesn’t mean we’re the same. We’re creating environments that are set up in a way that allows women to stay confident and open as they’re building their businesses. Women are tribal—they like to talk to each other and collaborate…they want to help one another. And we’re seeing this take shape in our spaces. One woman told us she got her first investor check in the Riveter; another connected on a political activism opportunity with a fellow member in the space; another member got a distributor connection for her business here; and yet another is using our space as a product lab for her female end-consumers.

We help our members connect both physically and digitally. We have a Slack channel and a member directory where people can search based on subject matter, so if they’re looking for a lawyer, a bookkeeper, a marketing strategist, they can lean on one another. That’s powerful because the traditional learning and development that exists in corporations isn’t enough. How can we amplify the skills of our peers?

We’re really trying to enhance that support. If it’s a remote worker, giving them the extra professional development they need; if it’s a freelancer, we’re helping them find those critical skills they need to take their business to the next level; if it’s an entrepreneur, we’re helping them find funding opportunities. We give members the opportunity to sit in on, or participate in, pitch competitions held in our space. Those are the examples of the real power we’re giving women: access to opportunities.

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There’s a lot happening in the spaces. Do you describe the Riveter as a coworking space or is there a different term you use?

We’re a movement. We consider the Riveter a women-forward workspace and community, but it’s wrapped into a movement to change the opportunities for professional women.

The Riveter is “female-forward,” but men are welcome. What does that look like?

This part is so fascinating to us. We’re still mining through these interesting gender scenarios that have popped up in conversations and in building out the spaces. Our current male population is 17% and growing. These are advocates and these are people who have female bosses. We have developers in our space who are working in a woman-owned company; we have remote workers who believe in the cause and they really love being here in our heads-down collaborative space. They understand there are things here that are unique to our spaces.

We are of the firm belief that you can’t change this conversation if men aren’t at the table with us. This is not an exclusive social club—we’re not going to exclude women who want to bring in men who are their clients or are part of their business. Jonathan Sposato, Chairman of Geekwire, is our new Entrepreneur in Residence. He’s of the firm belief that we should be investing in female leaders and female companies. It’s good for business. So he’s here supporting us and helping to lead the charge of advocacy on the male front.

It’s important to us that people know that. We were built for women, but, in the meta sense, we can’t create tangible impact without male support at the executive leadership and funding tables of every professional landscape. We’re pitching to male VCs—90% of the people we’re pitching to are men. Until they understand that this is important, and is a profitable opportunity, we just won’t get there.

This isn’t a male-bashing environment. People ask us every day whether we’re exclusive, and we’re not. But we are pushing women forward. The exciting challenge now is creating a nurturing, supportive environment in our small group settings so that when we do have programming and curriculum, women and men both feel comfortable, and that women’s voices are heard, and questions are asked, with confidence.

That’s going to be an interesting dynamic, as we have more men at the table, to encourage listening versus overpowering. Even vocal tones and body temperatures, which impact sounds and comfort in the physical space, are different. Paying attention to that is something we’re fascinated with right now. With the public discourse amplifying these messages, this couldn’t be a better opportunity for women. We’re in a position where we can say that we do deserve to be heard, we do deserve to lead, and it’s time to pay attention.

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You’ve talked about hosting events and programming to support women. What role do events play in the space? What are some of the more popular events you’ve held?

Our members have mentioned, time and again, that the network and the content—which go hand-in-hand with our programming—are the biggest drivers in value and unique differentiation we provide, as compared to other spaces.

We’re garnering data from our past eight months in operation—reviewing the most popular topics and which speakers resonated with people. A couple of things have surfaced from the data: we know women are lacking information about finances and negotiations. Those meatier topics are always full. The softer topics are important, but not what are our members are currently craving. They’re looking for ways to seriously put themselves in a position to advance. The topics they don’t get as much exposure to are the ones they’re starved for. We’re creating content, as well as partnering with members and outside organizations that already have the subject matter expertise and content. We’re wrapping that into the fold of our programming tracks and enhanced digital platform.

What about speakers you’ve brought into the space? Any insights into who your members want to hear talk?

They love the luminaries we’ve had, including Sheryl Sandberg, Sue Bird, Jenny Durkan, Kirsten Gillibrand, Angus King, Jonathan Sposato, the head of SheEO. And they love a good panel, but they’re really more interested in engaging. If they have opportunity for Q&A, or smaller groups, or even one-on-one where they get to interact, the members get more satisfaction. They get more out of those events than being a silent observer.

I understand fitness and wellness are part of the Riveter offerings? How do you incorporate these things into the spaces?

Our members are so heads-down that if you give them opportunities to access wellness throughout their day—if you provide that fluidity, they will take it. It’s top of mind for member benefits. We are partnering and providing heavy discounts on various fitness opportunities, like yoga. We have guided weekly meditations with meditation rooms in both spaces. Convenience is a big part of this because wellness tends to be deprioritized as an individual’s professional world advances.

A meditation room sounds so nice.

Our members nap in the day, they go in there for quiet time, they go in for some mindful meditation. We have an ipad in Fremont where they can pick what they want to do, like a compressed yoga workout, or a guided meditation if they want some assistance. But it’s a chance to take 10 minutes or 30 minutes and just reset. We know from research that taking intentional breaks increases productivity and these are high moving, high functioning people.

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What’s the big picture vision for Riveter? If everything went really well, what would you and the Riveter team most like to see?

I’d love for every individual in the country to know that the Riveter is the resource for professional women and their advocates. We are the resource you go to first for supporting and building your career or pursuits. This doesn’t necessarily have to be professional. We have plenty of women working on different projects and they need space—and not just physical space.

Thanks, Carrie. Anything you’d like to add?

For anyone looking to make a real impact on the advancement of women in the professional setting, this movement and table is open to you. If you are in interested in supporting women’s rights, are in the business of supporting women or building products for women, this is your space. Theriveter.co displays all of our upcoming events; you can also book a tour or complimentary day pass online. We’d love to see you in our community.

The Riveter is a member of the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance. Learn more about joining the community of member spaces.