Since the first co-working space was established in San Francisco in 2005, the concept certainly has caught fire worldwide. The WeWork network alone boasts 528 office locations in 111 cities and 29 countries. Due to this increasingly popular trend, freelancers and companies alike in almost every major metropolitan area have access to spaces where they can work, collaborate, and guzzle espresso to their hearts’ content.
But when Amy Nelson decided to depart her decade-long career as a corporate litigator to start her own legal practice — in large part because she found it difficult to balance full-time work with mothering three children — she noticed some shortcomings at a local co-working space she visited.
“I was really struck by how masculine (the space and classes) felt,” she said. “There was no place where women could find (networking opportunities) that were built for them.”
That’s when Nelson started to wonder whether, instead of pursuing a solo law practice, she should try to fill the gap she felt by building the community she sought for herself. So, she did just that, co-founding Seattle-based The Riveter in March 2017.
“I thought I would just be opening the one (location),” Nelson laughed. “But very quickly, I thought that this idea (of a co-working space designed for women) would resonate everywhere. Now, we have 10 locations in seven cities and 2,000 members across the country.”
The Riveter Bellevue opened in August 2018 and was the company’s fifth location. The elements of what make the female-focused co-working model unique, Nelson said, can all be found at this premier Eastside site.
“We do a lot of informal networking and community building. Our members are all really engaged with one another: A lot of partnerships form. It feels really infectious,” Nelson said. “The community has grown so fast in Bellevue, we’re on a waitlist for our offices and may add another Eastside location.”
The encouragement of that spirited community aspect at The Riveter, however, barely scratches the surface of how the company has structured itself to move the needle further toward equity for women in the workplace.
“The Riveter has always been built to be more than a co-working space,” Nelson said. “We’re a modern-day union for working women. And we’ve built all of our programming with that in mind.”
Programming designed by The Riveter team is free for members and is offered on an almost-daily basis, both at Bellevue and at The Riveter’s other nine locations. Topics covered in classes center on women while also encouraging allyship from men — the company’s membership base, Nelson said, is approximately 30 percent male.
“We have programming with venture capital investors because we know that women only get 2 percent of venture capital funding when they’re starting small businesses,” Nelson said. “We have panels about pay equity (dealing with) how you approach your boss to negotiate a raise or a promotion, or how you know if you’re being paid fairly in your company. We have programming about how you can build an inclusive workplace, and how to manage people on your team.”
When Nelson says, “inclusive workplace,” she means she is dedicated to walking the talk on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion to lift up women and people of color. She does so by hiring diverse team members, bringing in diverse founders and managers for programming, and building policies that offer discounted childcare, mothers’ rooms, and flexible membership options.
This is the case for the deal struck up between The Riveter Bellevue and the team behind the Tasveer South Asian Film Festival, the largest South Asian Film Festival in the United States.
“The Riveter has been very generous in accommodating us because we are a nonprofit,” said Rita Meher, executive director of Tasveer and member of The Riveter Bellevue since April. “We can’t pay for a huge office, and we have tons of volunteers who come in every day, so they gave us extra floating desks. I love the feel of The Riveter in Bellevue. It feels like home working from there.”
Nelson said that incorporating flexible membership options into The Riveter’s model was important to her because so many female founders run their businesses on their own and have varied needs.
“For women who start businesses, more than 80 percent of them are solopreneurs, and so a lot of them can’t justify buying a full-time membership or a full-time office,” Nelson said. “So, we have part-time memberships, drop-in memberships, and memberships for people who don’t need workspaces but who still want to be a part of the community and attend the programming.”
Floating desk memberships range from $99 to $375 per month, and private offices range from $1,650 to $3,100 per month. Member benefits include 24-hour access, private phone booths and mothers’ rooms, conference rooms, internet, professional programming, and discounts for clothing rental subscriptions and childcare.
With the 2020 U.S. presidential election right around the corner, The Riveter has even begun to host candidates to discuss issues relevant to working women. The conversations, known as The Riveter 2020, are open to the public and hosted at Riveter locations across the country, with members receiving early access and discounted rates. Steve Bullock visited the Bellevue location in August, and Cory Booker headlined a Seattle event in May.
“It’s important for our members to hear from candidates about their policies that will advocate for women in the workplace,” Nelson said. “I want The Riveter to be a place where we can have hard conversations that need to be had.”