A downtown Austin coworking space is converting to a female-only model.
The Refinery, at 612 Brazos St., anticipates making the switch in early 2019. Since it opened about a year ago, its clientele has been mostly female anyways — Refinery founder and CEO Hayley Swindell-Wakefield estimates that of its roughly 75 members, fewer than five are men.
“Very simply, it just kind of naturally turned out that way,” she said. “Subconsciously, I think I always wanted it to be that way.”
The handful of male members at The Refinery have been told about the switch and were supportive, Swindell-Wakefield said.
With the backing of Notley co-founder Dan Graham, Swindell-Wakefield launched The Refinery last fall. The building is owned by entrepreneur Manish Patel and leased by Graham. Swindell-Wakefield runs the day-to-day operations, interacting with members and serving as the face of The Refinery.
The 8,500-square-foot, two-story space is bright and filled with natural light and what Swindell-Wakefield called “feel-good” vibes. The Refinery is the 10th-largest coworking company in the area, according to Austin Business Journal research.
With the #MeToo movement still in full swing, some coworking spaces have been grappling with how to be welcoming for both genders. Consider WeWork Cos., the nation’s largest coworking firm and the largest in Austin with 400,000 square feet and more locations on the way. A former WeWork employee is suing the company, claiming she was sexually assaulted at events and that the business has cultivated a “frat-boy culture that starts at the top.” WeWork has denied the claims and is fighting the lawsuit.
Female-only coworking spots have popped up across the nation. Earlier this year in Austin, fashion retailer Raven + Lily opened a coworking space within its flagship store at 11601 Rock Rose Ave. in Domain Northside. The location is still a Raven + Lily store but also serves as a spot “for women to shop, work, learn, grow and support one another,” according to the company’s website. The Raven + Lily Collective also hosts special events, workshops and seminars geared specifically for women.
The Refinery plans to follow a similar model.
Swindell-Wakefield feels traditional coworking space often falls into one of two extremes: too busy and loud or too quiet, with rows of entrepreneurs wearing headphones. She said many are male-dominated. With The Refinery, Swindell-Wakefield sought to create a coworking space that empowered women.
“I always felt like I could ask women business-related questions a lot easier than I could ask men,” she said. “I wanted to be surrounded by really powerful women who were shaking shit up.”
Swindell-Wakefield declined to discuss many financial details of The Refinery’s operations but said part of the conversion will include changing membership pricing. Currently, members pay $300 for what’s called a “hot desk,” which essentially provides communal access to desk space. Dedicated desk space costs $450 per month, while studio space in various sizes is also available at a range of prices.
Moving forward, The Refinery will only offer one membership level: $225 per month for a general membership. Upfront annual memberships will cost $2,400, or $25 less per month.
By removing the nine private offices, Swindell-Wakefield hopes to cultivate a cozy aesthetic, akin to a coffee shop. In their place will be new amenities for members including a beauty room complete with mirrors, curling irons, straighteners and makeup refresh kits. There will also be two conference rooms, a library, a podcast studio and a green room for video production as well as a locker room. The new incarnation of The Refinery will be loosely modeled after The Wing, a popular women-focused coworking space that was founded in New York City.
Jocelyn Shook, general manager of the Fibercove coworking space at 1700 South Lamar Blvd., has noticed the trend of female-focused coworking spaces — especially on the West Coast. She called Swindell-Wakefield “creative” for taking the plunge but said Fibercove isn’t considering anything similar.
“I just think coworking in general, there can be little niches in the industry,” Shook said. “The Refinery, it was very much geared from the beginning toward females. It’s not something that Fibercove would ever consider doing.”
Assistant managing editor, Austin Business Journal
Article published originally via “coworking” – Google News https://www.bizjournals.com/austin/news/2018/11/29/female-only-coworking-gains-ground-in-austin-go.html