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Ashley Proctor: The Coworking IDEA Project

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The Coworking Community is striving to be as inclusive and diverse as much as they can be. It is a great thing in a world that continues to spiral with uncertainty. And with the world becoming progressively chaotic, the coworking communities around the globe aim to progressively work towards a more inclusive and diverse environment. 

And for that, we invited Ashley Proctor, founder of Creative Blueprint & Coworking Canada for a podcast to talk about the Coworking IDEA Project. She is also known for her work with Coworking Canada, Coworking Toronto, and Coworking Ontario, leading and bringing these communities to be more inclusive and diverse. 

Re-centring to Coworking Core Values

What exactly is the Coworking IDEA project? Ashley delves on the fact that as the coworking industry grows, it is imperative that the industry stays true to its core values.

Although the coworking community tries to keep in line with its core values, a lot of coworking spaces have , sadly, been drifting towards more of a financial and a corporate sort of construct around coworking in the industry — as Ashley states her observation. 

Add to that, the fact we are living in a world full of systemic racism, sexism, colonialism, and many other societal disparities which unfortunately can be found within the industry as well.

The Coworking IDEA Project

What’s the IDEA? It stands for Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility. These are the ideals that the movement is focused on. Those who help with the project are committed to re-centring these connections.

Ashley shares in her own words that: “We want to really focus on communal care, creative collaborations, human connections, all the goodness that coworking was founded upon, but also really make sure that we are now centring around being committed to making the coworking industry more diverse, or inclusive, more equitable, and more accessible.”

Ashley further adds that the project is a way for all community organizers from around the world, who already do all the work for their local communities, their groups and everything relevant for their spaces to bring their best practices, and share in  these connections so that the coworking industry can progress. 

The Coworking Movement’s Initiative

Ashley and Creative Blueprint, start talking to organizations in the coworking industry and ask them  how they are addressing the issues around inclusion, diversity and accessibility in their communities. What they are  working on, what are they creating. And most came back with almost the same feedback – all parties  agree with the initiative to make the coworking movement more accessible,diverse and inclusive but also find the magnitude of the issues to be a bit overwhelming.

They didn’t know where to start, where to pull and put their resources and invest their time best. Also, we consider that  the pandemic is still ongoing, they are figuring out how to get back on their feet, how to keep their spaces for their communities and take care of their members. Struggling as they are, many are really excited with the prospect of joining a collaborative effort to tackle these issues through a safe, neutral space for everyone. 

Ashley points out— “the organization can really help us by providing a safe or a neutral space to do and host some of our work for the movement for our industry. It’s also an organization that we would like to use to address challenges. So, industry wide calls to action each month in 2021, we’re going to begin issuing challenges to the coworking industry, operators, and event producers, asking them to really step up and work with us to learn more, and to do better in our communities.”

The Idea Project Event.

In line with this coworking movement, the Idea Project is having an open event on 9 December that welcomes and encourages anyone from the coworking industry to participate. No matter if you are a coworking owner, operator or just a member, the event is for all those interested in making the coworking movement more inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible.

Ashley will be acting as a facilitator, connecting the organization to the coworking industry and encouraging these conversations within the industry as a collaborative leader. 

Furthermore, Ashley states that she wants to work with the advocates, activists and other people in the industry who are already making an impact in  diversity and inclusion work. She really wants to work with them, and engage them. 

Laying the Path

As all things have a start, the movement has to begin somewhere or in this case from someone. This movement did not just — as people say — happen overnight. 

Ashley explains without omission: “And honestly, it’s around the collective gathering. I build collectives, I like to organize people and try to provide solutions to problems with collaborative and democratic engagement, and collaborative leadership. 

So, this is something I think I am now known for. And so, it’s a bit easier for me to reach out to folks and say, this isn’t my project, but I really want you to be a part of the team. And I’d love for you to show up and be involved in whatever way that makes the most sense for you in your organization. 

And I use this reference a lot. But it’s really important to me, and I feel like it is like a choir. And if we’re all working towards these goals, we need to be able to take a breath and to take a break, but the note will carry on if other choir members keep singing. 

And so, when we do this work collectively, we allow ourselves the room and the space to think about our own wellness and self-care and to be able to prevent burnout by stepping back in what we need to do for our communities and for ourselves and our families, and then stepping back into the work and re-engaging with our communities on that social impact level.”

It would be a waste to not repeat it verbatim. It shows us the thought and her eagerness to push forward to a more inclusive and diverse industry for the future of work.

Minorities and Male Dominated Coworking Spaces

The Coworking community tries as hard as they can to be embracing, inclusive, diverse and equitable, but can be thwarted by unintentional exclusion. 

What can this mean to the communities? And what are  Ashley’s thoughts about this?

Speaking from experience, Ashley delves on the fact that while a lot of the coworking community pushes with the initiative to be as welcoming to their members, offering that sense of belongingness, it can be eclipsed by, in her own words: “that’s what gets attention in the industry,the male dominated, tech focused, growth focused frat house feeling, coworking vibe that so many people hear about.” Which can really be frustrating when you are advocating for a welcoming community.

She then adds — “And because of that, they miss out on the real, genuine spirit of coworking. I get frustrated that coworking is misrepresented in the books that are coming out. And that many leaders in the industry allow this to continue, that we’re misunderstood.”

Finally, she hopes that there are others as well that are choosing to be different.

Just Recovery Ontario.

Another project that Ashley is eager to talk about is, Just Recover. Although this is not her project, but a movement that Canada is building to help hundreds of organizations through the pandemic.

She shares that the principles for Just Recovery centres are: 

  • To put people’s health and well-being first no exceptions 
  • To strengthen the social safety net and provide relief directly to people
  • To prioritize the needs of workers and communities 
  • To build resilience 
  • To prevent future crises
  • To build solidarity and equity across communities, generations, and borders, and in Canada to uphold indigenous rights and work in partnership with indigenous peoples. 

Ashley notes that Canada is known for collaborative works, the nation has embraced a new shift for find solutions.. And so, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re definitely a part of the problem.

She also thinks that it’s an incredible opportunity for these organizations who are led by really passionate and driven young leaders. Young leaders that lead diverse, inclusive, and accessible local community led organizations, and who have nothing to lose.

Inequality and Heartbreak within the Coworking Industry

At one point, Bernie expresses his disappointment and heartbreak over the inequality that still happens within the coworking events wherein he narrates a story that showcases the exact sentiment. Ashey leaves us with these gems:

“Yeah, I think it’s really just about diversity in general because we’re talking about perspectives of different ages, races, abilities, lived experience, location, all of these things. And so, it’s not necessarily visually obvious. But if you’re getting a diverse variety of perspectives, that’s what we need to learn. We don’t learn from ourselves; we learn from each other. “

In the end, Ashley speaks of the event that’s coming up on 2 December that is designed to bring folks together from all different perspectives and experiences across Canada and coworking. To go and see what can be achieved collaborating together and supporting each other. That it would be a great example to lead and be a model for anyone who wants to try events like these in the future. 

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