Womxn: enabling spaces for le femmes

Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter’s pose from a Howard Miller World War II poster. Image source: http://www.independent.co.uk/.

With the advent of womxn building their own in society, how might we create enabling environments for them to thrive?

I had a chat with the Head of Innovation and Transformation with our engineering partner about introducing externalities into a traditional work environment, in this instance, it was exploring the benefits of bringing a child into corporate. This got me thinking about a more heated topic.

This scribbling of thougths aims to explore how to release talent and creativity of women in workspaces through gender-neutral environments.

Decoding: language as a device to create a new identity

“Women” and “woman” originate from Old English, where “man” was used as a gender fluid pronoun much like “one” and “they” have turned into today. However the feature of “man” or “men” still creates a notion of being a subset in society. A growing trend of of women-oriented organisations around the world are taking on a new way of using words to give womxn ownership of their role in society and fast closing the gender gap.

As of late, many woman-oriented organizations are taking on alternate spellings of the words “woman” and “women” in efforts to be more inclusive. “Womyn” and “womxn” are two of the most commonly used substitutes to avoid using the suffix “-men” at the end of the term, but others like “wimmin,” “wimyn,” and “womin” are also sometimes used.

This presents an increasing insight into the power of independence and being recognised as an autonomous presence in society, creating, making that which was not there and with it the independence and strength to define.

Trying to thrive in circumstances that were not designed for womxn

I have chats with womxn daily and learn of the frustration resulting from womxn trying to assimilate;

  1. Through language — pronunciation and the ability to articulate without features of sexism or patriarchy in the workplace,
  2. Through recreational outfits — the notion of womxn needing to attend every social occasion to get ahead,
  3. Through ‘social order’ — the nuance that a womxn’s head will not be higher than that of the man,
  4. Through vulnerability — in many cases showing signs of weakness to advance in situations where this is not the case

A push for a more effective model

The biggest suggestion coming from these chats was the need for ‘a safe space’ that does not conform to social nuances, a defined space that weather any discriminations and ineptitudes, a place where womxn can be; as competitive, as liberal, as expressive,

Let’s expand on this idea of ‘a safe space’.

We are seeing a democratising of opportunities and work through independent labour and employment. Couple this with the advent of smart-startups, freelancers, the gig economy and a rising mass of independents, the above scenario is suggestive that co-working spaces are safe havens for the upstarts.

Co-working is a model empowering to the upstarts mentioned above, by affording them depth and latitude to establish as businesses that can compete openly with rationed resource. Perhaps more casual and fluid, these spaces still exhibit the same prejudice as formal, corporate environments.

How might we re-imagine a co-working space tailored for womxn?

Source: https://www.builtinnyc.com/2017/06/12/coworking-space-perks

Some science behind a womxn-only co-working space

The rationale for this may ultimately come down to hormones — stress hormones such as cortisol, that is.

A recent study by Indiana University researchers found that “token” womxn in male-dominated offices exhibited chronically unhealthy levels of cortisol. Previous studies have also shown that male-dominated workplaces can trigger social isolation, not to mention the potential for sexual harassment or stressful interpersonal interactions that can lead self-doubt.

It wouldn’t be a big stretch to imagine that some co-working spaces out there may have this kind of atmosphere.

Imagining a womxn-owned and led co-working space

  • An empathetic work environment with aesthetics to complement the subtleties of womxn,
  • Organic ways of focused networking and seeking mentorship from womxn without bias and the male banter often found in work environments,
  • Inspire and rejuvenate womxn via a sense of ownership and independence from another being,

This was a glimpse of a small thought on inclusive & enabling spaces and am hoping to explore this topic a bit more through more facts- and evidence-based learning by using human-centred principles to push the needle for healthier work spaces.


  1. https://www.treehugger.com/culture/womens-coworking-spaces.html

Want More Women in Tech? Design it.

Original article: https://medium.com/ideo-stories/want-more-women-in-tech-design-it-40691587033d

“Female Engineers Continue to Outnumber Male Counterparts.”
“Top 10 Most Innovative Companies now run by Women.”
“Investors Back More Female Founders, study says.”

Just kidding. But could we design a future in which those headlines were true?

We took that challenge to TEDWomen 2015, where the theme was “Momentum”. More than 750 women (and a few brave men) spent three days hearing from extraordinary people who are already transforming how we think, live, and work.

When it comes to the tech and venture world, it’s clear that no one is happy with the current state of affairs, not least our most visible CEOs. Talk of gender inequity — and lack of diversity in technology more broadly — has reached a fever pitch.

Our team at IDEO partnered with TED and Greylock Partners to have an open, generative conversation about how we might change the tech ecosystem to provide greater opportunities for female entrepreneurs.

If design is about solving problems, we thought, let’s use it to address this one.

Of course, we knew this was not a problem that could be solved over salmon at a 90-minute lunch. But we also knew this was an unmissable opportunity to convene a remarkable group of TEDWomen attendees — from C-suite leaders and investors to startup founders and entrepreneurs — who could help us create the kind of momentum the women up on stage were telling us about, from a school principal in Chicago to a teenager in Malawi.

We did a little prep to help direct the conversation. At IDEO, design starts with people. To get a broader sense of what women are dealing with out there, we asked some successful female founders to tell us about their experience as they built and launched their companies. Down to the last, everyone had battle scars to share with the group. Problem identified.

To keep us on a directed course, we charted the entrepreneur’s journey as a Steve Zissou-esque voyage out to sea (the TEDWomen conference took place in the coastal town of Monterey, after all) and identified a few ports of call along the way where we might wield influence:

The open seas can be choppy for any entrepreneur, and especially for women. Illustration: Jane Ha; Katie Clark

Using that chart as a backdrop, we asked some open-ended questions:

How might we encourage women to take the leap from idea to action?

How might we support women in being bullish about valuing their companies?

How might we productively call out bias to shift perspectives?

Almost immediately, the ideas flew.

Here are just a few: Our hope is that this springboards more conversation, and also encourages people to start prototyping.

  • An app or hotline that women could use to help bolster negotiation strategies in real time
  • Systems to make comparing and sharing valuation data more transparent
  • A “bad manners” movement that would call out bias in a loud, public way
  • A 1% Diversity Pledge, modeled on Salesforce’s 1% pledge for philanthropy
We designed fast and furious, hoping the female leaders at our lunch would take the ideas back to their workplaces.

In one of the more poignant moments of the discussion, one female VC suggested that to truly affect change, investors need to back more women founders and start writing checks. Her point was that the core leverage in the system as a VC is who you back. Vigorous head nodding followed.

The optimism, hope, and ideas lobbed by the group spilled over into the rest of the conference, as we bumped into one another at the coffee stand.

(Our bubble wasn’t even burst by countless cab drivers and bus boys who chipperly called us “girls” and “sweetie” underneath the TEDWomen conference banner.)

So what. Now what? (thanks, Linda Cliatt Wayman)

How can we outmaneuver or simply work around the implicit bias that is holding women back in tech, where we make up only ⅓ of employees(compared to 59 percent of the overall US labor force)? Systemic bias can start pretty far upstream (lack of STEM encouragement for school-aged girls, for example), but every day we wade through those waters without calling it out, we lose ground.

The need for more women as founders and leaders of companies isn’t really about equality, either — it’s simply good business. In companies that have the top 20 percent of financial performance, 27 percent of leaders are women. And from a Gallup study that looked at 800 business units from two companies representing two different industries (retail and hospitality), gender-diverse business units in the retail company had 14 percent higher average comparable revenue than less-diverse business units. In the hospitality company it was even more pronounced — 19 percent higher average quarterly net profit.

Anyone can run with ideas like “bias stickers” or a support hotline for women in business and learn what works and what doesn’t. Let’s experiment our way to a future that makes the headlines of this article a reality.

For more thoughts on this topic, listen to our IDEO Futures Podcast. Other ideas? Send us a flare! #HowMightWomen.

The future is ours to design.