Something happens to women when there are no men in the room. We get loud. We laugh freely and easily. We’re boisterous. Our words become candid, our intentions transparent.
Pollsters know this. They need women to speak their minds in focus groups, so they segregate the groups by gender. Now, many female consultants are adopting the same practice.
For as long as we’ve been in the workforce, women have known that freedom from the systemic sexism of traditional working environments can be found in entrepreneurship. But acquiring startup capital is difficult due to the same biases.
Recently, however, technological advances have democratized the process of starting a company. Anyone with a cellphone and laptop can now throw up a website and start a service business, so women don’t need access to family money or investors or bank loans to get off the ground. As a result, we’re hanging out our own shingles at unprecedented rates.
Modern economic growth centers around optimizing resources to make things cheaper and more efficient for consumers. We’ve learned to share our cars, our homes, and our offices. Coworking has exploded in popularity over the past twenty years, and for consultants like me, places like WeWork provide a cost-effective alternative to a fancy K Street office. But almost any office space, no matter how hip and modern, still comes standard with gendered behavioral expectations.
I spent 2016 consulting from home in my pajamas because I couldn’t find a working environment that felt comfortable to me. A lot of coworking spaces might as well be called bro-working spaces. These large beehives full of 20-something men ritualistically high-fiving around kegs felt intimidating to a mom approaching the age where women become invisible.
Friends have had similar experiences, recounting stories where young “tech bros” commandeered all of the energy in a space, telling uncomfortable jokes and yelling exclusive happy hour invites to each other across the room. All the while never interacting with any women over 30. These types of distractions are detrimental to the vital work that female consultants do — work that includes developing strategy for campaigns that win or lose on their ability to sway female voters.
After hearing these stories, I recognized the need for a space that centers women working in politics. In considering my ideal work environment, I recalled that my favorite offices of the past were very small businesses. These places everyone went to lunch together and celebrated each other’s birthdays. It felt like family.
With that in mind, I set out to recreate that vibe for my peers who want to work in a space where people look them in the eye and listen to what they have to say. I wanted to create a community where instead of competing with one another, we hold each other accountable and help each other get ahead.
I opened GSD Work Club in Alexandria this past January, and the concept has struck a chord. I’ve already doubled my space in Alexandria, and I’ll be opening a second location in Takoma Park in the fall.
While the current spaces are partisan due to the sensitive nature of our work, I’m planning to open a larger, bipartisan version of the concept next year in D.C., with separate work spaces and shared social spaces. When women create spaces where we can be ourselves and collaborate with one another, we flourish.
Michelle Coyle is president of BGSD Strategies.