Helping Women Thrive - Sheree Rubinstein

Lately an interesting and recurring thought has been popping up for me.

I am being challenged to answer an important question. While it is being posed to me in different ways essentially these questions derive from the same premise:

Why do I create hubs, programs and communities that either predominantly or exclusively focus on women?

Shouldn’t men be encouraged to get involved in the conversation?

Don’t we need to help men feel more comfortable in attending spaces, programs and events that support women?

Isn’t it time we encourage women not to just spend time in “safe” environments amongst like-mindedness but actually connect them to people who will challenge their thinking, get them out of their comfort zone and connect them to new networks?

I don’t necessarily disagree with this sentiment. Men need to be involved in the conversation. The issue of gender equality and levelling the playing field for men and women in business and entrepreneurship is an issue that affects all of us, no matter who we are.

But while I take notes and absorb the feedback I can’t help but strongly believe that there is still profound merit in curating opportunities that predominantly or exclusively support women.

I am the cofounder and CEO of One Roof, Australia’s leading co-working space dedicated to women-led businesses. Much more than a co-working space One Roof is a community and an entire ecosystem of support. In fact the name ‘One Roof’ embodies the idea that we provide everything a female entrepreneur needs to thrive under one roof.  We are currently home to over 70 women-led businesses across a range of industries providing them with a suite of support including mentoring, access to experts, curated connections, networking events and business coaching.

One Roof was born out of the indisputable reality; women are universally under-represented across the entire entrepreneurial and business landscape.

If we don’t actively think about what will attract, support and retain women to co-working spaces, programs, positions of leadership etc, often they will be, and they already are and continue to be, left out.

When we say ‘women-led’ what this means to us is businesses with a female founder, cofounder or CEO. Recently, we broadened this definition to include businesses that have an equal representation of women on their boards and / or a commitment or clear mandate of gender equality within their organisation.

We have men working at One Roof (and have recently increased these numbers), we have men hosting events, attending events, sponsoring One Roof, acting as experts, mentoring our members and, in fact, some of our greatest supporters have been men.

That said, we still predominantly see women working at One Roof and attending our events and programs. It is still overtly clear that One Roof is a space for women.

At this point in my two and half year One Roof journey I know it is crucial to create spaces and programs that are exclusively or predominantly focused on women.

For instance this year we launched the One Roof PLUS entrepreneurial support program to support early stage female founders. This is a 3-month program designed by women for women. To design a program that thinks about the unique challenges and needs of women, that provides examples and case studies of successful women and creates a ‘safe’ space where women feel comfortable to be vulnerable, be challenged and ask questions, is truly profound. When we run programs we design them around what we know women want. We do things differently rather than trying to fit women into traditional paradigms that don’t always work for them. One example is instead of hosting a big pitch night or ‘demo day’ with judges and hundreds of people in the room, our participants pitched to an invite-only room of investors and experts and then sat down to an intimate dinner with an opportunity to network in a more comfortable setting. I witnessed firsthand just how much value the participants gained from a female-only program. Not only did I witness it. They told me.

And, of course, YHER is a prime example of a program that, at its core, supports women.  I had the pleasure and honour of volunteering as a facilitator to support Kaitlin and Katleho at the YHER accelerator program last year in Johannesburg. This program is paving the way for female impact entrepreneurs across Africa. In fact, on the 16th of August we are hosting a fundraiser at One Roof. Come along and support this incredible initiative. Details here.

Essentially, I am on a mission to close the gender gap in entrepreneurship and empower women to succeed in business. The ‘why’ is what drives me. The ‘how’ isn’t so important. In fact I anticipate the ‘how’ to change many times during the course of my pursuit for equality.

But at this point in time women are still significantly lagging behind in entrepreneurship. Hubs, networking groups and educational programs that have a strong focus on supporting women are having an important impact in shifting the dial and paving the way for women to step into the arena with the confidence, skills and networks that we need to thrive.

Sheree Rubinstein
Cofounder and CEO of One Roof