In the world of coworking, it’s vital to create a comfortable working environment, ensuring that everybody who uses the space feels comfortable and at ease.
Within any coworking community there are a variety of different people from diverse backgrounds, and inevitably some of these individuals are more marginalised, while others are less so. How can your coworking space act as a true accomplice for everyone within the community so that everyone can bring their whole self to work?
To create an inclusive and diverse coworking space environment requires more than simply acknowledging that marginalisation exists, or welcoming people passively into your space. It involves actively constructing a more comfortable space in which to work, in turn making your community members feel free to be themselves.
The first step is recognising your own privileges. When you are aware of your privileges, you can make use of them to ensure a space is diverse and inclusive.
Own your privilege
Recognise the advantages, resources and opportunities you’ve automatically been granted as part of a privileged group.
While for some this can be a painful step in the right direction, it’s an extremely important part of the process. While recognising that some of your successes have not been fully earned is difficult, recognising the privilege you have is the key to unlocking the ability to use it for good.
As the saying goes: with great power comes great responsibility. If you have privileges, you are able to put them to good use. While you cannot speak on behalf of marginalised groups, you can use your voice – which is listened to – to call attention to their voices, when they are not.
You may not be able to recognise if you are part of the privileged group, so here are some examples of advantages privileged individuals have, and how to make use of them to ensure the coworking space is made more comfortable for marginalised groups.
Being an able-bodied individual living without disability is a privilege that not everybody has. Most towns and work sites were planned and created by able-bodied individuals and do not always keep disabled individuals in mind.
Use this privilege to do more research and find out how you can make your space easily accessible, not just for physical disabilities, but also invisible disabilities, and immune deficiencies.
Class is normally determined by two factors: an individual’s economic status and their social class. No matter which bracket you fall into, both finances and social standing provide privileges that cannot be accessed by those who do not have them – or worse, who are seen as not having them even when they do.. Areas such as politics and education are more populated with individuals who had the privilege in the first place.
If you happen to fall under this category of privilege, use it wisely to create an environment in your coworking space that fosters education and growth. Introduce your coworkers to individuals who will help them grow and prosper. Notice your own unspoken assumptions about race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, and class.
While this may seem like a basic right, getting an education is not something everyone has access to. It might not always seem like a privilege, but marginalised individuals often struggle to access higher education for various reasons, some of which include financial hardship or family circumstances beyond their control.
Make use of your privilege by implementing educational opportunities into your coworking space.
There comes a certain level of privilege to those who identify as male (this does not include trans or gay men as they are not always accepted). Historically men dominate in areas such as politics, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths), media representation and finance.
If you are a male manager or coworking space owner, use your voice to bring awareness to the issues that the marginalised members of your coworking space are facing.
The LGBTQIA2S+ community is still not accepted everywhere, and it can cause a queer person to feel like they cannot be themselves. Heterosexual priviledge is created when being queer is not accepted. This means that heterosexuals don’t face the same judgement for who they are in a relationship with, and leaves the LGBTQIA2S+ community constantly facing prejudice.
Should you be a heterosexual individual running a coworking space, focus on making it a space that feels safe and understanding of who they are. Work should not be a place where you feel the need to hide who you are.
For a complete list of the different types of privileges that exist, take a look at this article written by Canada’s Centre for Digital and Literacy, Diversity in Media.
Educating yourself is one of the most vital steps when striving to create an inclusive coworking space. Although it is tempting to simply ask marginalised groups about the inequalities they face, you’ll be better prepared if you research and educate yourself first. Also, it is not anyone else’s job to do the work of educating you; it is yours.
It takes time to read and research about the unfair treatment minority groups experience, but doing so will deepen your understanding.
Once you have done this, it is a good idea to speak to these groups candidly about their struggles. Be mindful that because these are difficult topics to discuss, it’s important to first ask their permission.
Be aware of how you phrase questions and of the wording you use. Always approach with humility and a learning mindset.
It’s important to know and understand that not all members of marginalised groups will have the same experiences – for example, when in discussions with females, a white woman may not have the same experiences as women of colour, as they belong to two different marginalised groups within a bigger group.
Stay keenly aware of generalising after hearing one or two stories from marginalised groups – try to get as many perspectives as possible within a marginalised group to genuinely understand the struggles their group has faced, and the different identities that form part of a group.
Pay close attention to marginalised groups in your coworking community and how they experience your space – it is important to transform your mindset to make marginalised groups feel safe and included.
Accept constructive criticism
It is important to ask for feedback on this journey. Make time to ask your coworkers if there is anything that is still missing or needed.
Pay close attention to how you approach this, as you could unwittingly place added stress onto your coworker, as they might feel pressured into telling you that you are doing a great job.
This may not strictly be your fault, as this can happen due to the myriad of challenges that marginalised individuals face. Their voices aren’t as heard as yours, so they might be afraid of saying the wrong thing and being shunned or viewed as ungrateful, radical or disagreeable.
Before approaching for feedback, ensure that a safe space has been established and that you come from an angle of respect and that they have agreed to help you on your journey towards growth. A trusting relationship will aid your success on this journey.
Try to remove your ego when accepting feedback, and do not feel that your work has not been enough but acknowledge that there is still a way to go.
When you receive constructive criticism on an aspect, respond with respect and thank them for the help provided by them on your journey.
Practice the art of listening
On your journey to creating an inclusive space, it is important to be conscious and intentional. While this is not an easy task, learning to truly listen to others is crucial to your overall learning.
When you listen to others, it brings to light the different experiences individuals from the same communities can have- in turn this leads to greater empathy.
Your journey should not rely on marginalised individuals to tell you how to help. Rather, you should discover this on your own by listening to their stories and asking permission to assist them where you can.
Don’t have the mindset of: they must tell me where they need help. As a privileged person, it is your responsibility to work towards breaking the cycle of systemic oppression—not just in your coworking space, but in your everyday life.
Practice IDEA in your coworking space
Educating yourself and finding ways to improve the lives of marginalised groups around you is key on this journey. One way to do this is by signing up for the European Coworking Assembly’s IDEA (inclusivity, diversity, equity and accessibility) handbook.
This handbook contains four parts that will guide you through the process of creating an inclusive, diverse and equitable coworking space that is accessible to all. Read what the IDEA handbook is all about and sign up for early access to the book once it launches.