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INSPIRE Business Community in Lancaster, PA

Female Coworking Spaces Aren’t Exclusionary- They’re Compulsory

NOTE: There’s an underlying conversation to be had about gender that I 100% acknowledge, please read all following “women/female” as intended to be “women-identifying/female-identifying”. Female workspaces usually accept trans/nonbinary folks for membership.

I have a self implemented rule that I follow 95% of the time: Don’t. Read. The Comments.

The 5% that I am sneaking a peek, I’m usually searching for heroes- folks calling out the monstrosity of whatever horrifically misinformed or discriminatory “opinion piece” has been posted. Their educated, articulate responses relieve me of the responsibility of engaging my reactive inner-fire (which I’ve learned to appropriately tame in my adulthood).

But sometimes, those heroes are no where to be found. Instead, there’s a cesspool of ignorance where an otherwise compassionate adult conversation should be. In those cases, I’ll gladly indulge that flame inside my chest for the sake of standing up for something I believe in.

It’s usually futile, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.

I’d heard of the women-only INSPIRE coworking community through a friend named Heather that I met at a “Galentine’s Day” mixer for female entrepreneurs. Having just moved to Lancaster a few weeks prior, I knew it was time to start going to events like these and making some new friends.

Which was scary and hard.

My Philly girlfriends made me into a zealous advocate for the magic of female friendship; their unconditional love and the uplifting strength they bestowed upon me truly made me a better person. I learned about the power of these relationships unfortunately late in life, but I’m no less grateful for it.

I understood that this was an essential part of my growth that I’d have to actively pursue — but making friends as an adult can be awkward and leave you feeling vulnerable.

Ergo, it was exciting to hear that a community like INSPIRE existed, especially having just started my own freelancing company. And I kept the idea of becoming a member in my back pocket for later use.

The next time I’d hear about INSPIRE, I’d be defending its honor on social media- having not even yet stepped foot inside.

Is Female-Only synonymous with Anti-Man?

“Exclusionary” is a word commonly repeated by folks of the anti-female workspace movement, which are predominantly (and presumably) men. But this assumption shouldn’t be held too tightly; there are still some women out there that believe these spaces are causing damage to “coworking communities”.

As one example, the woman who vehemently argued with me on a professional online platform that female coworking spaces are divisive. Her reasoning was that men, too, provide valuable support and insight in business, and that excluding them robs us and them of the opportunity of sharing ideas.

This isn’t entirely untrue- I’ve had a myriad of healthy, professional relationships with men that have helped me grow exponentially in my profession and as a person. My last boss, who I considered to be a mentor, was male. He was empathetic, gentle, and wonderful.

That’s not to say I’d be hopelessly lost without his direction, or that his guidance was so unique I simply couldn’t have found it in a woman.

Our relationship was based on a mutual foundation of respect and trust. I am confident that all good leadership and tutelage rests on these two things (which, you might notice, are not gender specific).

Men bring different qualities and strengths to the table, that’s for sure. I won’t deny that there is a richness is my platonic male friendships that I can’t find elsewhere. But is their presence a necessity in order for me to effectively run my business out of a coworking space for a few hours a day?

No. Certainly not.

Furthermore, in a world that is primarily built for men, where the wage gap is still somehow a thing, where the #metoo movement has just recently emerged, where the US still hasn’t seen a female president, it isn’t an entirely insane request to ask for one space that belongs to women.

Can we not experience the benefits of mixing and mingling with men elsewhere (literally everywhere else) in our lives? Can we maybe just have a few hours a day to ourselves?

There is no self help book, no psychological study empirically stating that spending time in the same space with the opposite sex is essential to our personal or professional growth- nor that spending time without them is damaging.

There is, however, a community of women who have been physically assaulted, degraded, sexually harassed, and discriminated against in statistically disturbing numbers in traditional work spaces.

Female coworking spaces aren’t children’s clubhouses with “BOYZ KEEP OUT” spray painted on the side of the building. They aren’t trying to hurt, damage, or poison men. They are trying to cultivate spaces where women can feel safe, comfortable, and relaxed.

Psychologically, when our security needs are fulfilled, we can transcend into creativity. We spend less energy worrying, and can redirect that unused energy to our work. We feel freedom to express ourselves and our identity openly, freely… deliberately. That’s what female only spaces do.

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Finding Freedom in Community

After this comment-reading-and-subsequent-fruitless-argument fiasco, I understood the irony and perhaps slight naivety of defending a women’s only space without actually ever attending one.

I was finally nudged to actually visit INSPIRE when the owner, Rhonda, invited me in to see the space. So, on a brisk and beautiful Tuesday afternoon, I decided to walk downtown and check it out.

As I approached its hidden brick facade doused in radiant afternoon sunlight, wrapped with dark green foliage and delicate winding vines, I already felt inexplicably soothed.

Rhonda is just about the kindest, most genuine human being one could hope to find greeting them at any door (her gregarious, welcoming staff obviously carefully chosen for the same qualities). This energy was immediately mirrored in the vibe of front room; a clear manifestation of her gentle, empathetic, and creative nature. Soft, classical piano lulled the coworking space into a whimsical calm. Wood, earth tones, live plants and flowers adorned the walls. Natural light poured in from a skylight above.

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As I entered the shared working area, there was a wide selection of places to sit; couches you could sink into, armchairs for a more attentive but cozy meeting, tables for the upright and focused worker (that’s me).

A kitchen with coffee, tea, and beautiful kitchen appliances immaculately sparkled to my right- snacks were presented on a low table in the corner, and white mugs with affirmative phrases on the shelves hung above the sink.

Though INSPIRE had a delicate touch, there was not a gaudy shade of pink in sight- not a flamboyant stereotype of what it means to be a woman to be found in any corner. The aesthetic was natural, earthy- hardly what most would consider “feminine”- no, the space was trying to communicate something else.

Comfort. Tranquility. Stillness. Equanimity. Expression. Freedom.
Safety. Safety. Safety. The space makes you feel so secure it’s like being wrapped in a blanket in your childhood bedroom. Its makes you feel like it’s finally ok to be you.

That security is invaluable. It opens up mental avenues you didn’t even know were blocked. That bursting, inspired, liberating creativity- in my opinion, that freedom of self, and the ability to enter flow, is the true definition of femininity.

This is, quite frankly, a revolution for women. This kind of space is absolutely pertinent for the advancement of our businesses, our communities, but also of our own personal actualization. Spaces like INSPIRE will change the landscape for women-owned businesses in Lancaster and beyond.

I am sure of it.

If you hardly ever feel threatened and do not see a need for safe spaces for yourself, it may be difficult to grasp why female coworking spaces aren’t “exclusionary”. I have a few solutions for those of you that feel this way:

First — coworking spaces are growing in popularity. And most of them are unisex. You can enjoy the company of everyone by joining one of these. Women-only and all-gendered workspaces can coexist in the same way that a yoga studio can be on the same block as a dive bar or a catholic church- you have the freedom to choose where you spend your money.

Second — accept that there are some places you simply do not belong. This conversation could extend into one about privilege and patriarchal control, but I’m not even going to dip my toes in it. It’s messy and with most opposition it will fall on deaf ears. Instead, I’ll say this; you wouldn’t fly to a foreign country and start demanding that they include you in their ancient cultural religious traditions as if you grew up there. Women occupy a similar culture/community, so please don’t do it to them.

Third — find your own super safe place where you can express yourself. Start a meditation practice (this is the most peaceful and safest space I know). Because personal experience is the root of all empathy; maybe you can understand the issue by discovering the value of such a space.

The world is a dangerous place for women, still. If you don’t believe that, there’s a whole other conversation to be had.

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I really want to thank INSPIRE for… well… inspiring me.

Life over the past two months has been a whirlwind of risk, change, and loneliness. Starting a business and moving to a new city at the same time (in the middle of winter, nonetheless) was a daunting task.

Working from home seems like a dream, but we often forget how hanging around in pajamas all day and not talking to another soul actually feels. It can be isolating and depressing. You have to grapple with your definitions of meaning and purpose. You miss out on everyday social experiences you might otherwise have in a traditional work setting. Your goals get messy and tangled without management helping you view things from an outside perspective.

Communities like INSPIRE exist for people like this- people like me. I couldn’t be more grateful at how easier my life just became by finding it.

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My name is Judy and I’m a poet & journalist with a penchant for pragmatic self growth, all things movement, travel, and the outdoors. You can follow my strange obsession with breakfast food, hikes, and locavore storytelling on my instagram, @amongst_mountains or on my website. I’m also transitioning to a minimal footwear/barefoot lifestyle, which should be an enjoyable mess to watch unfold.

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Where food & feelings converge // Full time writer & cook with the agricultural advantage in Amish country.

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