When the cast of MTV’s The Real World: Seattle moved out of its 11,000-square-foot loft in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood last year, Kim Peltola and Amy Nelson moved in. Then they painted the lobby white and placed jars of fresh tulips at reception. Called The Riveter, the coworking space they cofounded borrows its name from the loft’s earlier incarnation as an auto-body shop, one of many that once operated on a strip called Auto Row. Now its walls are stacked with shelves of granola and copies of Grace Bonney’s In the Company of Women.
Seattle is home to almost 30 coworking spaces. Some cater to specific professions like finance or tech; many feature full-service bars. But only The Riveter, which opened in May, is just for women, and Peltola and Nelson envision it as offering more than just a place for female entrepreneurs to build businesses together. Unlike the few other women-focused coworking spaces (like Manhattan’s The Wing), it’s also meant to solve one issue many women feel pressured to let slide in the name of success: Wellness.
In addition to desks, offices, and conference rooms, The Riveter boasts two yoga and meditation studios. “We really want to integrate wellness throughout the workday and prioritize self-care,” Peltola tells me on a recent afternoon, as sun pours through a row of windows in the open-plan space, “because that’s often the first thing to go . . . We tend to take care of everyone else before we take care of ourselves.”
Before cofounding The Riveter, Peltola was a social worker and therapist, where she constantly met women who felt isolated, stretched thin, and on the brink of burnout. As Nelson explains, they “didn’t have a community and they weren’t engaging in self-care,” two problems that she and Peltola came to see as linked. So they decided to create a space that would promote productivity as effectively as wellness. After entering a pitch competition and winning, they raised $760,000 in a seed round and found three female angel investors to be part of the project.
A membership at The Riveter includes daily in-house yoga, and users of the space are encouraged to take breaks—there’s also a barre class onsite five days a week—and to end their workdays in time for a 5 p.m. meditation session. “As women, we wear a lot of hats,” says Peltola, which too often makes work-life balance impossible. “It’s really nice to be at a space where you can have your needs met right here, and then you can go home and be present—whether that’s for your child, your partner, or your other passions.”
One startup operating out of The Riveter is Armoire, a high-end clothing-rental subscription that found “brand alignment” with the coworking space, according to cofounder Ali Driesman. Like The Riveter, she says, “Our company is founded by women, it’s for women, and we want to give them time back so that they can do incredible things with their life.” Working out of The Riveter also lets Driesman get in front of potential customers who share those values. At an influencer event held at the coworking space later that day, Armoire set up a selection of inventory for attendees to browse.
Like most coworking spaces, The Riveter wants to be flexible enough to attract independent workers, too. Its workspace rentals range from “floating desks” ($375 per month) and dedicated desks ($400 per month) to private workspaces ($750 per month), among other options. Paola Thomas, a freelance writer and food and travel photographer, started using the space in its first week, signing up for a 10-hour monthly pass ($75). Within its first two weeks of operation, The Riveter sold over 120 memberships.
Thomas agrees the wellness offerings were a big draw for her, and aren’t just an add-on. “It feels like a really inspiring, uplifting place. It’s nice to get up from your desk and just go downstairs and do some yoga and come back, rather than having to go somewhere. For me, I’ve been surprised by how productive I am here.”
Nelson and Peltola might not be. They see self-care as critical to surmounting the obstacles that women in the workforce and female entrepreneurs in particular face. In 2016, only 7% of the partners at the leading 100 venture capital firms were women, a likely reason why women received a paltry 2.2% of VC funding last year. As Nelson sees it, “One of the most powerful ways to change the ecosystem for women entrepreneurs is to create these spaces where people are connecting more, and hiring each other, and boosting each other up”–rather than burning out alone in a male-dominated pressure-cooker of an industry.
But to make entrepreneurship more accessible and hospitable to women, The Riveter might first need to widen access to its own services. Not every bootstrapping startup founder can scrape together $375 for a monthly desk rental, or would consider $75 for just 10 hours of use a good bargain. She might opt for a home office instead—where she isn’t likely to make the connections she needs—and attend her local gym’s yoga class, if she finds time to at all. WeWork, one of the more popular coworking spaces, costs $300 per month for a floating desk. Another Seattle-based option, called Makers, is $200 a month. Guest speakers at The Riveter’s intimate weekly talks have included luminaries like Sheryl Sandberg and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, which could unintentionally reinforce an air of exclusivity.
To be fair, even other women-focused coworking spaces (of which there aren’t many) haven’t nailed accessibility, either. The Wing, a work and community space based in New York, costs $215 a month (on a 12-month contract), or $2,250 a year. But it isn’t certain that what professional women need most is daily access to mindfulness exercises. Some might rather get onsite childcare, a service that very few traditional employers offer (Patagonia is a notable, longstanding exception), let alone most coworking spaces, including The Wing. To its credit, The Riveter is already building partnerships with local childcare providers, according to Nelson, as well as “an online childcare swap, where members can swap childcare and time at The Riveter.” That might set it apart even more than its yoga offering does.
In surveys of professional women’s key priorities, flexible work arrangements top the list, and coworking spaces in general are built to offer that. But wellness perks don’t typically make the cut. Georgene Huang, cofounder and CEO of Fairygodboss, an employer review site for women, says wellness benefits never beat out things like compensation, health care, financial benefits, and paid time-off in its surveys of users; in fact, they’re rarely among the top five.
“We are just starting off, so we’re learning,” Peltola acknowledges, pointing out that The Riveter is a for-profit business with a social mission. In the meantime, Peltola and Nelson are confident The Riveter can still help more women succeed in a startup world that’s proved forbidding to them for so long, and they’re hoping to reshape that world in the process. That’s why the space isn’t women-exclusive, only women-oriented. When I visited, I noticed four or five men working alongside the 30-odd women in the space. “We think it’s incredibly powerful for men to walk into a workspace built for women,” Nelson says.
She and Peltola hope to open 20 locations all along the West Coast. Eventually, they want The Riveter to normalize wellness in work—even to rebrand self-care as a productivity strategy. And not just for women entrepreneurs but for everyone, everywhere.