It is frequently observed that Coworking Spaces, like the Tech Industry, seems pretty, well, undiverse.
For example, Lori Kane commented, 
“it hit me immediately: almost everyone in the space was young and white” (and mostly male). This was “not at all what the walk through the diverse neighborhood primed me to expect.”
Similar sentiments have been expressed by many people.
At the same time, coworkers frequently perceive their own workplace to be diverse, and, indeed, the diversity of fellow workers is seen to be one of the principle benefits of a coworking space (e.g., [5, 8, 9]).
What is going on here?
For one thing, there are many different ways to be “diverse”. Kane notices the visible demographics of the space, especially compared to the city around it. Others are more focused on the range professional and technical skills in the room.
A second caveat is that any given coworking space has only so many workers, and generally draws a group “like-minded” workers. But there are many coworking spaces, with different membership, and no single workplace represents all coworking spaces or coworkers.
Sean Captain wrote last year in Fast Company about “A Growing Movement Of Coworking Spaces For Atypical Entrepreneurs” . He writes about the emergence of “work spaces with public-service missions”. These operations may be not-for-profit, or for-profit B-corps, and may have a variety of members. The common theme is serving a social mission rather than pure profit.
Captain views this as a “new” trend, but coworking has had this strain of social mission from the beginning (e.g., the Centre for Social Innovation , Make Shift Boston , or EnSpiral Space ). But he does find that this concept is holding its own amid “mainstream, big-city coworking spaces like those in the WeWork empire” and their clones.
Besides a social mission, these spaces are also emphatically local.
Captain quotes Robbie Brown of WELabs  (located in Long Beach), “we’re drawing in membership from the community here rather than so much attracting outside folks into the area,” As Kane suggested, the local group is ”less threatening than walking into a coworking space and seeing a bunch of white guys in dress shirts, their faces in computers and typing away.”
Captain mentions similarly local work spaces in Raleigh, NC, Detroit, and other cities.
Again, the emphasis on serving a local community has been a key to coworking from the beginning. Indeed, the gigantic, one-size-fits all WeWork-Seats2Meet-NextSpace style of “consumer coworking” is a recent development. In the beginning, all coworking was “authentic”, local coworking, and there are plenty of locally oriented (but not necessarily social mission oriented) work spaces, such as The Harlem Collective , The Shift , Nebula , or CoHoots ).
In addition to demographic diversity (or perhaps, demographic locality), these small, low profit operations generally attract a variety of “non-traditional” businesses. He notes a variety of occupations and businesses, including healthcare, small manufacturing, and community development projects.
Again, these businesses aren’t as new and ground-breaking as Captain seems to believe–there have been similar community development projects for a century or more in most places. But, again, in recent years the big chains and business schools have promulgated a picture of what entrepreneurs are like, and what they do.
Captain does raise the interesting point that the leadership of these social mission spaces isn’t itself particularly diverse. This is embarrassing, smacking of cultural colonization, but also a matter of access to funding and know-how. Obviously, the next wave of “authentic local coworking” must be locally run and led.
My own view is that coworking has never been as homogeneous or, indeed, “corporate” as the business school version.
More important, coworking is all about community, and about the community feeling of comfortable solidarity and mutual support. Large scale operations may offer consistent, low cost services, but no one community “vibe” will please everyone.
If coworking is to persist and grow, it will need to recruit more and more diverse workers. This will require creating and sustaining communities that attract and nurture new workers, including people who do not aim to “move fast and break things”. (“Move steadily forward and fix things together”?)
For this reason, I view the future of coworking as a patchwork of many spaces, each locally led and connected to it’s location. Authentic, home style, workspaces?
“Even more diverse.”
- Sean Captain, Inside A Growing Movement Of Coworking Spaces For Atypical Entrepreneurs, in FastCompany – Leadership. 2016. https://www.fastcompany.com/3059990/inside-a-growing-movement-of-co-working-spaces-for-atypical-entrepreneurs
- CoHoots. CoHoots Coworking. 2017, http://www.cohoots.info/.
- Enspiral. Enspiral Space. 2015, http://www.enspiralspace.co.nz/.
- Kane, Lori, Tabitha Borchardt, and Bas de Baar, Reimagination Stations: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space, Lori Kane, 2015. https://books.google.com/books?id=ybFCrgEACAAJ
- Liquid Talent, Dude, Where’s My Drone: The future of work and what you can do to prepare for it. 2015. https://www.dropbox.com/s/405kr9keucv97gw/LiquidTalentFoWEbook.pdf?dl=0
- Make Shift Boston. Make Shift Boston. 2016, http://makeshiftboston.org/space.
- Nebula. Nebula Coworking St. Louis. 2017, https://nebulastl.com/.
- Olma, Sebastian, The Serendipity Machine: A Disruptive Business Model for Society 3.0. 2012. https://www.seats2meet.com/downloads/The_Serendipity_Machine.pdf
- The Centre for Social Innovation. Culture | The Centre for Social Innovation. 2016, https://socialinnovation.org/culture/.
- The Harlem Collective. The Harlem Collective. 2017, http://www.theharlemcollective.co/.
- The Shift. The Shift – Home. 2017, http://www.theshiftchicago.com/.
- Work Evolution Labs. Work Evolution Labs,. 2017, http://www.workevolution.co/.
What is Coworking
Note: please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming in
2017 Real Soon Now.