There are 75 million working women in the US, and they make up nearly half of the workforce. But that’s about as far as equality between men and women in the workplace goes. Because the wage gap persists, with women earning approximately 80% of what men make. Women are also severely underrepresented in the executive levels and boards of corporate companies.
The situation is only marginally better for women who choose to start their own businesses. While the US is one of the best countries for women entrepreneurs, with an average of 1,817 new woman-owned businesses being started everyday, many women founders are struggling to access the capital and mentorship that are key to business success.
The Riveter exists to shift that narrative. Founded by Amy Nelson and named Rosie The Riveter, the cultural icon that invited women into the workplace during WWII, The Riveter is a ‘modern union fighting for all working women.’ The business began as a national network of nine coworking and community spaces across the US dedicated to women pursuing their career goals.
“The vision was really to be an inclusive place for all kinds of women, whether you were looking for a job or starting a business or working for a big company. Even if you didn’t need office space, you could just come and be in community with others and access excellent programming,” explained Giovanna Gray Lockhart, The Riveter’s Chief Strategy Officer.
Lockhart joined The Riveter in December 2019 to oversee the company’s communication, brand strategy, and programming and advance The Riveter’s mission of creating more equity for women in the workplace. High on her to-do list was building out the digital community that had been a part of The Riveter’s original vision to create access for women who were unable to participate in the physical spaces.
“We’ve hosted thousands of events and talked to thousands of working women around the country last fall. We hosted a listening tour where we’ve learned about the resources to make their work lives better. So, we created this space in real life, and then we took all of those tenants and transferred them into an online community,” Lockhart said.
That online community has become even more important since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Lockhart noted that they made the online membership free to make it accessible to as many women as possible and created programming to consider the needs of working women in the context of COVID-19. Recent content has covered subjects like working from home with kids, finding job opportunities after layoffs, and managing the crisis for single women living alone.
The Riveter has also collaborated with noteworthy changemakers to support working women through the crisis. Hillary Rodham Clinton and President of One Fair Wage Saru Jayaraman joined The Riveter to address the severe impacts restaurant and service workers have experienced in the era of COVID-19. Joined by founder and CEO of The Riveter, Amy Nelson, Secretary Clinton and Saru Jayaraman discussed the importance of the One Fair Wage Emergency Fund that is both providing relief to these workers, many of whom are women, and collectivizing their voices to make systemic change. See video clip here.
Lockhart aptly described these frontline workers, including nurses and childcare providers, as modern-day Rosie the Riveters, and noted that working women shouldn’t feel guilted into the pandemic productivity pressure others might be pushing.
“Most of us are just trying to figure out how to make it through the day, and I don’t think there’s been enough attention on the self-care and support that people need during this time when they are cut off from their usual communities and support systems.”
Lockhart encouraged women to extend themselves that grace and patience even beyond the crisis. She stated that the idea that women have to accomplish career or entrepreneurial success before they turn 30 is a false narrative. Instead, she encouraged young working women to figure out what’s important to them in life and work rather than feeling compelled to be perfect from the outset of their careers.
That’s why The Riveter’s programming is committed to giving women real and honest examples and experts they can learn from.
“We’re not trying to create or craft any particular image. We really want to show the diversity and the differences of opinion and life experience. I think that’s where true equality stems from—realizing that perfection and being master of the universe is not a goal. It’s to lead a fuller life doing something you love,” Lockhart said.
Of course, that fuller life can and should include aiming for the highest levels of career success, and Lockhart understands firsthand just how hard that can be for women who also want to lead full lives outside of the office. She noted how the lack of leave time many businesses and organizations offer can make it hard for women to hold executive positions and actively raise a family.
But Riveter is leading by example behind-the-scenes as much as they are on their platform, providing their staff with 16 weeks of paid leave. “We wanted to show that you can build a successful company with policies that promote gender equity from the beginning,” Lockhart said.
Lockhart hopes that the community The Riveter creates will help to push more companies to reframe their policies to consider and support the needs of working women as well. She shared that they have started planning programming and resources their members will need once the crisis ends.
“We know that going back to normal is not something that we want,” Lockhart said. “We want to push for equity in the workplace after this is over, and in some ways, perhaps, It could be a reset moment…If we’re the voice for the 75 million working women out there, imagine what this engaged community could do to make change for gender equality.”