The Coworking IDEA Project — an international group of coworking organizations and community organizers — is dedicated to creating safer, accessible, and more inclusive coworking spaces. To achieve this end, the group hosts monthly themed challenges that encourage businesses to set small, realistic goals to improve inclusion and diversity. “With challenges what we try to do is think about individual things like, ‘How today you could support parents in your space,’ and that’s one little thing you can do”, said Ashley Proctor, a founding partner, also noting many businesses want to become more accessible and inclusive, but don’t know how. “We’re giving them very tangible actions and small steps that will ripple out in their communities.”
Making coworking spaces accessible
More than simply being “nice to have”, coworking space accessibility is a legal requirement; around one in five U.S. employees has a physical or invisible disability that falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Cerebral palsy, in particular, is a common neurological condition affecting mobility, muscle tone, and coordination, Cpfamilynetwork.
Accounting for hidden disabilities
Although physical accessibility is usually at the top of peoples’ minds when it comes to making coworking spaces accessible, invisible disabilities should also be taken into account. Autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and dyslexia are some common examples of non-visible disabilities. “It’s important to think about how people who are highly sensitive or neurodiverse may use these spaces,” said Joanna Abeyie, founder and director of inclusive recruiting firm, Blue Moon. “Providing spaces like working pods that can lessen noise and activity — so that if they are hypersensitive to their surroundings they’ll be able to work without feeling like they have to disclose their disability and still have the benefit to be around other coworkers, entrepreneurs, and creatives who are using the space”.
Improving gender equality
One out of 4 U.S. women who were unemployed in 2020 said they lost their job due to childcare responsibilities. In order to help equalize typically male-dominated coworking spaces, Britt Riley launched the Haven Collection, a unique coworking space that also provides licensed childcare and fitness facilities. “Our whole mission is to level the playing field for parents,” Riley said. “While this was a huge issue prior to COVID, the pressure on women has been magnified in the pandemic. To feel safe in a space, people need to feel seen and like the space is open to them”.
Ultimately, coworking spaces need to be held to the same standards as any other workspace. “Putting people through cultural training, being aware of microaggressions and what they look like in the workspace — all the same rules apply in coworking spaces,” Abeyie said. “There is something in making sure all staff and all coworkers are aware of some of the differences individuals have, and making sure those are cared for.”