One reason why India has one of the lowest women’s workforce participation rates in the world is that Indian women at all levels of income and education are expected at some point to get married, have children, and turn their focus toward the home. Juggling a full-time family life and a full-time job often proves impossible, and women see their careers stagnate or even end after becoming mothers (i.e., the “motherhood penalty” they pay is even higher than it is for women in the US or Europe).
For Indian women professionals, one way to close this participation gap is to give them more opportunities to work flexibly, on their own schedules and outside a traditional office setting, so that mothers can handle their family responsibilities and remain active in the workforce. Women entrepreneurs in India have been developing services specifically geared toward these women, such as the online community and job search platform Sheroes.
Two entrepreneurs in Chennai, profiled by Sushma U N at Quartz on Wednesday, have taken the concept of a women’s professional networking space one step further. Earlier this year, Vandhana Ramanathan and Jinal Patel launched Wsquare, a women-only coworking space for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and remote workers:
Female entrepreneurs can do with this support. Today, just around 14% of all Indian businesses are run by women, and many female professionals still battle workplace-related issues that deter them from pursuing their careers. It’s this segment that Wsquare is targeting. In the last eight months, over 150 women have registered to use the co-working facility, around 80% of whom are entrepreneurs. The rest are students, researchers, freelance professionals, or remote employees of large companies.
Besides the standard fare—wifi connectivity, coffee, etc.—Wsquare offers services like delivery of groceries or chopped vegetables, home-cooked meals, and crèches. It also organises workshops on branding, social media, yoga, and life-coaching sessions. The facility can accommodate around 30 people, and includes private workstations, a lounge, a conference room for 25 persons, a smaller meeting room, and an outdoor patio. Wsquare also has facilities to meet the specific needs of women, including ergonomic chairs suitable for expectant mothers.
Wsquare also released a job search app earlier this year after hearing from a lot of women, specifically women looking to return to the workplace after lengthy maternity breaks, that they needed help getting connected with recruiters. Next year, they’re planning to launch a 12-week accelerator program for women entrepreneurs to help them either grow their businesses or get started turning their concept into a company.
Although Wsquare is geared toward the specific challenges Indian women face in the professional world, women-only or women-focused coworking spaces are also popping up in the US and Europe, reflecting a growing interest among women professionals in places where they can work and network with other women (and without being the only woman in a room full of men). In a similar vein, BumbleBizz, a project of the women-centric dating app Bumble, debuted this fall as a professional network where anyone can join, but only women can initiate contact, to cut down on the sexual harassment, abuse, and unwanted attention they sometimes get from men on professional networking sites like LinkedIn.