By: Susannah Jaffer; Photography by Michael Bernabe; Hair and Makeup by Kelly Bilimoria
Some may call her a feminist; MICHAELA ANCHAN simply calls herself pro-women. As the founder of women-only coworking space Woolf Works, she seeks to empower female entrepreneurs to get their career mojo back so as to pursue their professional ambitions.
Tell us a bit about you, before and after your move to Singapore.
I’m originally from New Zealand (yes, I remain a die-hard All Blacks supporter!), but moved to Singapore in 2011 from India. It’s quite a story really: I’d been backpacking through Asia for a year between jobs, when I met a handsome guy in Mumbai. I fell head over heels and stayed put for the next seven years! While living there, I worked as a project manager for a European shipping company for a couple of years, dabbled in entrepreneurship, had my first daughter in 2008, and then mixed being a stay-at-home mum with some long distance creative writing study for the next few years.
When we moved to Singapore, I kept up the writing and then had my second child in early 2013. When he was a few months old, I began to feel very restless, and knew I was ready to get back into the professional world.
Where did the idea for Woolf Works spring from?
I realised that the key to succeeding either with my writing or with my own business would be to get out of the house and away from distractions and interruptions. I found it very hard to work for long intervals at home and was always feeling frustrated. I started to look at the idea of renting an office for myself, but realised that it would be expensive and lonely; the idea of locking into a two-year rental agreement wasn’t very appealing either.
One evening while surfing the net I came across the concept of coworking; I’d been searching online for something along the lines of “studio office for mums to share” as I thought it would be cool to work alongside other women who were also running a business and juggling multiple roles. I read about a couple of female-only spaces in the US and then looked at what coworking spaces were available in Singapore.
It seemed that all the places here were very tech-focused, the spaces weren’t very aesthetically pleasing, or they were just not catering to my needs. Back then, one of the pioneering coworking spaces here, Impact Hub, was solely focused on businesses with a social enterprise angle, while another space, Collective Works, was (and still is) focused on high-performing small teams. I wanted somewhere quiet and calm to get work done, and with a community of diverse and creative women; so I had to create it!
Why a women-only coworking space?
I have always been very clear about the kind of people I wanted to provide space and community for, so why not shout it from the rooftops? I’ve had a few people get a bit fired up about it, but frankly I’m not really interested in hearing them. I know I’m addressing a very deep point and common issue.
There are so many women out there trying to make something of themselves, working from the kitchen table at night after the kids are in bed, or from a lonely, distraction-filled home office. It can be terribly demoralising. For a woman, having a calm and welcoming space to go to where she can be super-productive, can be a total game changer. Many women, especially mothers, have a tendency to put the rest of the household’s needs ahead of their own, and only squeeze in time for their own professional goals around the edges of everyone else’s. A Woolf Works membership is a way for them to set clear office hours and work more efficiently.
I’m not at all anti-men, I’m just pro-women! It’s outrageous in this day and age that women are still struggling to return to the workforce after maternity leave, and are still paying a career penalty for having babies that men don’t even have to consider. So, I hope the Woolf Works space and community can help women find the valuable support and connections they need to thrive.
Tell us more about what the area offers for members.
We have been housed in a beautiful space in Joo Chiat for the past two years, but we’re now moving into town! We’re thrilled to announce that from mid-May, we will be located in Carpenter Street, close to Clarke Quay MRT.
As with our Joo Chiat space, our members get use of the workspace – at a fixed desk or at a communal table – plus free coffee and tea, printing and Wi-Fi. We have a large meeting room and a small meeting room available for booking and an awesome rooftop space for more casual chats.
We also put on a number of workshops and programmes that are organised by us or by other members. We’ve hosted workshops on everything from meditation and Google analytics to sketchbook art!
Our new flagship programme, Catalyst, is a bit different. It’s a three-month programme aimed at supporting mothers who are looking to return to the workforce but are not really sure what they want to do, or what their next step should be. We’ve come across many women who have lost confidence in their skills and who’ve found that motherhood has really knocked about their values and goals. Catalyst groups are very small – just six women at a session – and the programme includes a mix of intensive workshops and shorter, peer-circle reflections for inspiration.
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