The modern “shetopia”: women-only work spaces

Hurricanes with female names rack up higher death tolls than their male counterparts. This isn’t because they are more perilous, rather it’s due to peoples’ assumptions they’ll be milder, associating a female name with stereotypical characteristics such as a gentle demeanour.

The unassuming statistic here shows peoples’ gender bias shedding light on a wider, deeper issue: conscious or unconscious gender bias in society. This isn’t new but it shows how engrained it is in our psyches, affecting our most basic actions and decisions.

While the suffrage movement happened more than a century ago, extending the “franchise” out to women with the right to vote, social behaviours haven’t necessarily mimicked the law.

In fact, women have been conversing in women-only social circles and clubs since the Progressive era- end of the 19th century. Here, they’ve morphed from purely social gatherings and book clubs to feeding dialogue surrounding reform in women’s rights and family planning. One hundred years later, women still feel the need to have women-only spaces where they can draw on each other as a resource. Are they a throwback to these gendered spaces or a great resource?

Pop culture has often portrayed beauty shops as communities where women can gossip or find a safe haven, or even just exist beyond the male gaze- often fostering self-confidence in this “let me be me” state. The Wing, a woman-only workspace, boasts a lactation room and beauty bar in catering to it’s members’ needs and desires that weren’t previously serviced. In contrast, Silicon Valley start-ups were lauded for making the workplace fun by adding perks such as ping-pong, video games and beer kegs which seemed to only consider men.

Social clubs aren’t a new concept but a modern twist has made them relevant: give women a place to work and socialise without men. It doesn’t necessarily stem from a place of angry feminism, but a space without the invisible hand of the patriarchy at play is refreshing. The Wing, Hera Hub, The AllBright and We Heart Mondays are spaces where members have reported higher productivity and less pressure without men, according to The Wing co-founder, Audrey Gelman.

However, according to writer Suzannah Weiss, “Events with pink decorations, workspaces that assume women put higher value on work-life balance than men, and social groups exclusively centered on manicures and chick flicks only set women back.” The point here is to have options- don’t paint a contrasted pink and blue picture.

Following the flood of #metoo hashtags on social, numerous organisations have been identified as toxic work environments that have knowingly (or obliviously) let inappropriate behaviour go unchecked. Harassment and hostile work environments didn’t just pop up over the past few decades but have always festered, just beneath the surface of public awareness, interfering with the personal and professional lives of women.

While laws have been enacted and policies put in place, gender parity hasn’t reached a pinnacle revolutionary moment as many may have thought. In fact, it is predicted another century must pass in order for us to create a truly equal society.