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When Lisa Gordon set out to find the perfect coworking space for her new business, she knew she wanted one that met all of her needs.
“I knew I needed a space where I could feel very focused and be in my flow and push myself beyond [these] dive while I make this transition [to entrepreneurship]“, Gordon told NPR.
The retired psychology professor turned social entrepreneur said she tried out a series of coworking spaces in the Santa Monica, Calif., area but felt like they came with a pretentiousness that didn’t feel right. not welcoming, especially as a woman of color.
“Although it was very stimulating, I couldn’t relax. I felt that in the spaces I was a bit isolated because there were not many people who looked like me there “, Gordon said. “And I accepted it because I didn’t know there was anything else available.”
But there was. Eventually, Lisa found a way to become a member of Blackbird House.
A community-based coworking space based in the Los Angeles area, Blackbird House aims to support, guide and advance women of color and their allies – both professionally and personally in a “safe space”.
“I haven’t seen many women of color represented [in coworking spaces]. I was curious what it would be like to create a space like this,” founder and CEO Bridgid Coulter Cheadle told NPR.
“We’re very focused on women of color. But we’re also open to allies,” said Cheadle, who transitioned into interior design after getting her start as an actress in the ’90s.
When looking for office space for her interior design business, Cheadle said she struggled to find one that felt inclusive.
“I’ve always been drawn to spaces created by women, for women. Eventually I thought, ‘I really want to develop something for women of color,'” Cheadle said.
Women of color are always looking for inclusive work environments
The concept of coworking spaces aims to bring people together for a sense of community. But research suggests women of color still struggle to find an inclusive work environment.
McKinsey & Company researchers say the pandemic has affected women disproportionately compared to men. And women of color “continue to have the worst work experience.”
In McKinsey’s 2021 Women in the Workplace Report, data shows that women of color make up just 17% of entry-level corporate positions in the workplace. And they only represent 4% of C-suite leaders.
Erika James, dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a 2020 interview on All things Considered that change in the business world has been slow to reflect both the current gender and racial composition of our country.
“I think if we can build social media platforms, if we can put people on the moon, and if we can have self-driving cars, there’s very little we can’t do,” James said. .
“So the fact that we haven’t yet created a more diverse work environment means we just haven’t prioritized it,” she added.
It’s more than a coworking space
By providing in-person and digital opportunities that address the productivity, well-being and advocacy of women of color, Cheadle aims to expand the Blackbird House brand in the United States and internationally.
The flagship Culver City location offers members a range of amenities including a co-working environment, six private offices, multiple conference rooms, a meditation room, and a cafe.
“Some people come in and say, ‘I need to do my job,’ and you can stick your nose in and do it,” Cheadle said.
“But there’s this other side of doing it, looking around and seeing people [in the room] who look like you,” she added.
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Spend a lot of time organizing Blackbird to feel welcoming to its members, Cheadle said she hopes this coworking space is more than just a “folding table out back,” but an experience for its members.
“I want you to come in [to Blackbird] and think it’s as beautiful as SoHo House or Noia House or any of those other spaces that are gorgeous and luxuriously designed. I want us to think of ourselves that way,” she said.
For Gordon, she says Blackbird is a space where she can be herself without the pressure of having to code-switch while working.
“It’s perfect for me. It’s what I’ve wanted in other coworking spaces,” she said. “I don’t have to do this at Blackbird. I can just breathe.”
NPR’s Ari Shapiro contributed to this report.