Badass Women celebrates women who show up, speak up, and get things done.

By Shalayne Pulia
Nov 21, 2018 @ 12:15 pm
Chad Peltola

Sixteen months ago, Amy Nelson launched The Riveter, a co-working space geared toward women that is changing the game for female entrepreneurs. Now, as her business outpaces the likes of WeWork with five spaces opened already and counting, she’s ready to take her idea national. She has three locations operational in Seattle, two in Los Angeles, and a map of the United States on The Riveters's website that's dotted with future locations; she wants to help put women at the forefront of innovation from coast to coast.

“The Riveter was really built to exemplify what happens when you think of women first in the workplace,” Nelson says. “How does the community grow around that? And what does it mean? And moreover, we are not women only. We have a very firm belief that there's a lot of work to be done by men and women together to change the workplace. And we want to provide a place to do that.” The Riveter's tagline stands as: "Built by women, for everyone." 

Right now, a women-first workspace looks more open than your traditional ultra-secluded cubicles. It also involves programming to dip into the local community for events and networking opportunities for women who want to start their own businesses. “I heard a female founder say recently that a lot of women feel like starting a business is trendy. But it's not trendy, nor is it a trend,” Nelson says. “Women have been starting businesses and figuring it out for decades and decades and decades.”

Nelson’s brainchild has captured the attention of some powerhouse activists like Saru Jayaraman of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United and Hollywood big names like Jane Fonda, who recently spoke at a ROC United One Fair Wage event supporting restaurant workers held at the Riveter in LA. “Jane Fonda is an activist through-and-through. She walks the walk. She has done this for decades. And for her, at her age, to spend days knocking on doors, getting people to sign petitions, and raising money for women who are working in restaurants [is amazing],” Nelson says.

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The Riveter beginnings: Nelson, a former corporate litigator and political volunteer on Obama's national finance committee says that her background fed into her current passion. “In both law and politics, I saw an arena where you had an equal number of men and women at the starting line, and a finish line that looked awfully different,” she says. “And that never sat well with me. I wasn't willing to stay in a room where I didn't think I had an equal opportunity to move ahead. I'm smart and I'm talented, and I wanted to do something that would make a difference and make change.”

The 38-year-old says that becoming a mother to three girls gave her added incentive to change the status quo. “When I became a mother, all of what I fought for in America that led to where we are today, really came to clarity for me” she says. “I mean, today there are more Fortune 500 CEOs named John than there are women. We need all of those CEOs named John to recognize that the balance of power is unequal, and that it would be better if it looked different.”

Co-working women: “The traditional co-working spaces in the market are actually around 90 percent office space. You walk in and you're in your own office,” Nelson says. “But the 85 percent of women who are starting businesses as solo entrepreneurs actually want more flexibility, more interaction, more opportunity to collaborate in the space. And we actually physically built the spaces to reflect that desire and that need.”

Aside from the physical space, Nelson says there’s also an emphasis on programming and partnerships. They have connected with 20 different venture capital firms that come through weekly to meet with other female founders. They focus on how to manage diverse teams, how to negotiate promotions, how to fix the pay gap, and more. And The Riveter also offers member benefits for childcare, wellness, clothing rental subscription packages, and more. “Starting a business is hard. Having family is hard. All of these things are very hard. And what we do at the Riveter is try and put the pieces together to make it somewhat easier,” Nelson says.

Michael Kovac

All in the name: “I think of World War II as the time when American women defined the workforce,” Nelson says. “The American government created the idea of Rosie [the Riveter] to ask women to go to work. And we answered the call. We named the company Riveter because we think that women are at the forefront of the workplace today, and we need to be recognized as such.”

Up next: “We plan to build over 100 locations across the country,” Nelson says. “I want The Riveter to play an integral part in bringing women to the head of the table, leading the conversation about what work is and what work should be in this country.”

Obstacles: Fundraising, even though Nelson has prior experience in political fundraising, has been a difficult part of this process, for reasons echoed across many female-founded companies. “All female-founding teams receive less than 3 percent of venture capital dollars in America. It is incredibly hard for any entrepreneur to get funded, and when you hear that number, it's really daunting,” Nelson says, adding that part of the problem stems from the fact that over 90 percent of venture capital investors are men. “Very few women build billion-dollar companies,” she says. “I want to be a part of the example and part of the change. But the fear of failure is always there. And that part of it is hard. It's something I didn't anticipate.”

RELATED: Restaurant Workers Are Paid as Little as $2.13 an Hour — But Saru Jayaraman Says Change Is Coming

Mighty motivators: Nelson says her biggest motivators are within her family. “I want to be viewed in the world as someone who gave a shit,” she says. “I want my daughters to know that I tried to make the world better for them and for myself. Because I matter. And I think it's pretty important that we as women acknowledge that we matter on our own, not in the context of being a mother, or a daughter, or a sister, or a wife. We need change, because we as individuals deserve it.”

Badass supporters: “I think a badass woman is someone who brings other women with her,” Nelson says. “I have been able to do what I've done with The Riveter by the support of women in my world.” Nelson lists her female friends who answered her calls when the going got tough, her mother who encourages her every chance she gets, and the female founders she’s met through her work. “It is a small group of women, but they are so powerful and willing to do anything for you,” she says.

Male allies: “The coolest thing about The Riveter is the fact that we're built on a model of inclusivity – we're not saying we built a clubhouse just for us. We're saying, ‘Look, there are women's organizations all across the country doing all of this amazing work, and we want to work with all of them. We are a place where everyone can come, and be, and do this work together.” She went on to encourage men to help women come to the proverbial table and the top of industry as allies in the workplace and beyond.