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Badass Woman of the Month: Hera Hub’s Felena Hanson

The Wing has been in the zeitgeist lately as a women-only co-working space, causing controversy about whether women still need separate spaces (and if so, for what — socializing, consciousness-raising, blowouts, networking?). Felena Hanson was ahead of the curve, starting Hera Hub, a 5,000 square foot, female-focused co-working space, in San Diego in 2011. Unlike The Wing, men are allowed, but the space was meant to be the antithesis of the bro-y startup venues that existed for men.

When she launched a marketing strategy consulting firm, the co-working spaces didn’t feel welcoming to her. “The typical spaces were outfitted with a ping-pong table and a beer keg. A 30-something woman was not their target demographic,” she says. “I wondered why wasn’t there a space for someone who wanted a professional and productive environment in a beautiful, inviting setting.”

Here, Hanson tells The League of Badass Women about Hera Hub and why we still need women’s focused spaces more than ever today.

Hera Hub is “female-focused,” but not “women only.” Why is that distinction important?
Women have been operating in a business environment that we did not create. The pillars of business were created by men — women didn’t even get access to the business world until the 1950s — and so we have always been operating in an environment that feels foreign. We would hear phrases like “act like a man” or “play like a guy.” Our model is not anti-male, but, rather, I wanted to create an environment that is built by women, for women. It is open, collaborative, vulnerable, allows women to ask the tough questions, and also to be surrounded by likeminded people. If men want to be part of that conversation, then they are more than welcome. We are definitely not stopping them.

Why do you think safe spaces for women are more important than ever today?
I’ve seen 8,500 women come through our doors, and they talk about how this community and this support system changed their lives. Women rarely get to show up as they are. It is incredibly empowering for women to not have to pretend we are something else. Business is challenging, being an entrepreneur is difficult, and trying to do that in a vacuum is almost impossible. Yes, there are a million Facebook groups out there and many of them focus on females or female entrepreneurs and that is important. But there is nothing like sitting across from someone for coffee or sitting elbow-to-elbow working and being able to connect with someone in person — we’re missing that in our society so significantly. Some people are calling co-working the new church. Having a place to support one another is inherently powerful.

Who uses Hera Hubs?
Our members by and large are professional service providers, people taking their expertise into a business. We have a lot of creatives in our space, and a significant group of women in our community are in the non-profit sector. We have a smaller group of women in tech or biotech. We’re rooting for the little guy; our members are mostly working independently. Only 10% of our members are working in a team environment. We really pride ourselves on being a diverse ecosystem, so our women age from 22-year-olds to late 60-year-olds.

What is something you want to change about Hera Hub?
We are really focused on expansion. We decided to work in a licensing model versus take on a lot of venture, and we want women to bring this kind of co-working space to their very own communities. We are having conversations right now nationally and internationally, in Poland and Sao Paulo and Nigeria to bring Hera Hubs there. We want to grow!

How do you continually differentiate Hera Hub from the other co-working spaces that exist now?
Our model is about business, giving women a platform to launch and grow their businesses and to have access to experts. The Wing seems more like a social club than a coworking space to me. While their members may also be there for the community, we want our members come to Hera Hub to launch and grow their business. We want our members to feel comfortable bringing their male partners, collaborators, and investors into their coworking space. Women still have a serious disadvantage in business, and we want to continue to change that… but we need to bring men into the conversation AND along for that change.

–Priya Rao

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is on a mission to connect and empower communities of women to support each other, rewrite the rules of leadership, & constructively disrupt the world of work.

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