The Riveter: Fostering a female-forward force
When you enter The Riveter’s flagship Capitol Hill location, the first thing you notice is the bright, minimalist design - vaulted hardwood ceilings, exposed air ducts, sprinkles of greenery rooted in white ceramic pots and sunshine pouring through a dramatic wall of windows.
Then you see women - women chugging away at business plans, women pitching investors in the conference room and women testing their innovative ideas on one another. You see women leading teams.
Built by women - with women in mind - the space is constructed to promote well-being and spur collaboration.
“These optional coworking spaces… They were full of men,” said founder Amy Nelson of the coworking spaces she’d seen before opening The Riveter. “The decor and amenities were for men. They try to encourage - their words - ‘fraternization’ by keeping kegs full. For me, when I was walking into those spaces… [I knew] that was not where I was going to find community.”
So The Riveter traded in table tennis for bathrooms stocked with tampons and cold kegs for programming that helps women source capital for their businesses. Down to temperature and the tensile strength to open a door, coworking spaces before The Riveter were designed to appeal to men.
“We tailor our perks and amenities to make women’s lives easier,” Nelson said. “We have off-site childcare partnerships and clothes rental subscription discounts. We provide pitch clinics and programming on financial projections. And the way we built our space - women start different kinds of businesses than men. We want more open space because we network differently. We want more interaction. So we wove that into our space.”
At an airy 11,000 square feet, The Riveter’s first location opened its doors in May 2017. In September, The Riveter added a Fremont location to its ranks. The concept? Fostering female-forward entrepreneurship. A thousand women start businesses every day, yet only receive 2 percent of financial investment. The Riveter aimed to not just provide a space, but create a community, that challenged this disparity.
“Women are starting businesses at five times the rate as men,” said Nelson. “I know we have more than 2 percent of the good ideas. Given my background, I thought that this was the best use of my skills and that there was a need for it.”
Nelson’s background as an attorney and political fundraiser is a venn diagram of social advocacy and working in highly political, male-dominated industries.
In her time as an attorney at a white-shoe firm in New York, she became increasingly aware of how the litigation structure is built in a way that doesn’t work for women.
“If you have to write a reply brief, you have 24 hours to get it done. It felt impossible, but even more impossible for working mothers,” said Nelson.
For predictability, she moved into in-house legal work. She hoped the atmosphere would be more malleable to growing her family. But even there, she found herself discouraged from applying for a promotion by superiors because she had recently taken maternity leave.
Even more, she didn’t report the incident because she feared retaliation.
“I found myself in these power structures. When you look up, the situation is different. Elected officials. Partners [at law firms]. They are full of men. These numbers don’t reflect our society and this always bothered me,” Nelson said.
So when Nelson began devising The Riveter, she knew she wanted to create not only a space of inclusion, but a sense of belonging. She wanted to make sure that no woman was left behind in her vision.
“When you look at spaces like this, it can very easily become a space built for white women.” said Nelson. “It was desperately not what I wanted. I thought, ‘Can I bring a senior leadership team member to focus on this when we’re so new?’ And the answer was yes. Because that was what The Riveter was about.”
Nelson hired The Riveter’s first member, Jessica Eggert, to join as Head of Culture & Innovation. An experienced human resources professional, Eggert spearheads The Riveter’s diversity and inclusion efforts and runs events and programming. When Nelson approached her about the opportunity, she was working out of The Riveter as a diversity and inclusion consultant. Having spent a career in change management - fixing issues of diversity ex post facto - Eggert was ready to help Nelson begin a business that addressed inclusion from the start.
“I was working in tech companies where I was the only woman at the table and the only person of color,” said Eggert. “I spent the first half of my career trying to fit in. I assimilated so I could succeed. I became this person I did not want to be. When I had my son, I took no time off. I started pumping on bathroom floors. I was so stressed that my milk dried up. I thought, ‘This is normal, right?’”
Eggert had to unlearn concepts of normalcy to pave the way for her work at The Riveter.
“I had to do a lot of work on myself and who I wanted to be at the table.” said Eggert. “Now I don’t feel like I have to change myself to do the work that I want to do. We are setting up this community to be completely accepting - where you can bring your full self with healthy boundaries.”
Alongside Eggert, Nelson has formed a band of feminists to head the rest of her executive team, including David Valadez, head of operations; Jonna Bell, head of marketing and Carrie Maher, head of growth.
When asked about being a male working in a female-forward co-working space, Valadez was singing praises of the entrepreneurship The Riveter facilitates.
“People - whether men or women - from the outside might think it’s novelty,” said Valadez. “But there’s business being conducted here. There’s amazing energy and talent here. There’s such a huge untapped pool of women. The whole planet needs to look at these strong women. I’m here. There are more men that should be in these positions of allyship now.”
Valadez has some experience not feeling like he fit in, having been born in Spain and working with English as his second language. And he certainly has some experience working with strong female entrepreneurs - his wife was the contractor that built The Riveter’s space.
“Women experience situations differently,” said Maher, head of growth. “We want equality but we’re not the same. We’re driving the communication and those opportunities differently than in a traditional setting - having the funding conversations in a way that help you get the funding that you need, extending those broader networks and having other women in these networks.”
Maher, who oversees the member experience, has her finger on the pulse of what The Riveter community wants. Maher added that members prefer smaller workshops and activities where they can engage and hold active dialogue.
“It’s not just a coworking space,” said Bell, head of marketing. “It’s a center of community. But without the barriers. The environment doesn’t question whether you can have a child and get promoted. We’re here to ask how to move forward. We have programming for that.”
The Riveter provides three areas of programming that help women at different stages in their lives with businesses at different stages in their growth: general business acumen (how to pitch or negotiate), startups (how to manage a funding round) and pivoting (how to reenter the workforce after leaving).
But beyond that, The Riveter’s team felt it was their duty to be an advocate for the rights of its members.
“Our members range the full spectrum in terms of social impact and wanting to take a stance on issues,” said Bell. “Across the board there’s an expectation that the company in which you’re loyal to will be actively engaged and have a voice. We made a decision – we were hugely involved in the women’s march. We hosted events to get more women into office. We have had deep-down discussions in gun control and male advocacy. That’s been a push from our members – access to intelligence around those issues and bringing those conversations into our space.”
The Riveter has a future as bright as its space. On the docket: corporate desk sponsorships for women of color, digital networking opportunities and new locations across the country.
“The speed at which we are growing is indicative of the speed of the market,” said Bell. “Women are going to launch businesses. Let’s give them that much more access to attain their wildest dreams.”
“It’s a huge loss for our economy that we’re losing out on all these opportunities.” said Nelson. “We spend so much time and money training women and recruiting them and we lose them. You can’t blame pattern recognition. Of course we make investments into things important to our own lives. We’re trying to change who gets excited.”
The Riveter is a female-forward coworking space with locations in Seattle and Fremont. Inspired by Rosie the Riveter - from a time in American history when the workforce was defined by women - The Riveter is a laboratory of women-led businesses that aims to challenge the entrepreneurship status quo. Follow The Riveter on Instagram at @theriveterco.
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