Ruby Offers Communal Work Space For Women

OPINION
By Caille Millner
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In addition to the usual wine-tasting nights, events at Ruby’s include community organizing workshops and nights to organize care packages for homeless women. The library is stocked with fiction and poetry from female authors; there’s also a residency program for artists.

San Francisco Chronicle

Women of the Bay Area!

Are you tired of obnoxious male-dominated meetings, social clubs and restaurants?

Frustrated by the guys trading cryptocurrency at the coffee shop, the ones who won’t use their indoor voices?

Had enough of being asked to represent your company at every conference and legal meeting, so it can pretend it has a diverse workforce?

Let me introduce you to the Ruby.

The Ruby opened its doors Jan. 22 in a space near 24th and Bryant streets in the Mission District. It is a “work and gathering” space for women (including trans women and nonbinary individuals). Despite this 2018-era description, in many ways the Ruby harks back to a slightly earlier era in San Francisco.

Which era?

Well, before the city’s ideal of communal space was a WeWork center.

The Ruby isn’t funded by venture capitalists or outside investors. The space runs on member dues and their sweat equity — the founding members imagined, painted and decorated the 3,800-square-foot space themselves.

In addition to the usual wine-tasting nights, the Ruby’s events include community organizing workshops and nights to organize care packages for homeless women. The library is stocked with fiction and poetry from female authors; there’s also a residency program for artists.

“I’m really not interested in running a conventional business,” said Rachel Khong, the Ruby’s 32-year-old founder.

“It’s not a place for people to simply show up and consume Wi-Fi. Joining us means contributing to our community and being engaged in the larger community.”

While Khong read plenty of business books and solicited assistance and advice about business models from other coworking space owners, she decided early on that she didn’t want the Ruby to be a space for women who were focused on climbing the hypothetical corporate ladder.

“Spaces for those folks exist, and I’m really glad they do,” Khong said. “But I just believe the way power conventionally looks in movies — a white guy in a suit, or, nowadays, a hoodie — is not only inaccurate, but irrelevant. We can create our own structures and help one another get to where we each need to go.”

This mission tends to attract a certain sort of woman, and most of the Ruby’s founding members are what we used to call “creative” people — writers, photographers, chefs — at least before that word got hijacked by the software design industry.

Khong herself is an author (her first novel, “Goodbye, Vitamin,” was published last summer) and a former editor of Lucky Peach magazine. She got the idea for the Ruby after one too many lonely days rotating through cafes and libraries.

“I wanted a space where I didn’t feel anonymous, and where I could accomplish many things: I could get my work done, see friends, and feel creatively stimulated, all at once,” Khong said.

As for the Ruby’s all-woman focus?

“The groups I was already in that left me feeling enriched and happy were my all-woman book club, my all-woman standing mahjong game, and my mostly-women writing group,” Khong said. “I realized that wasn’t a coincidence.”

It’s not a coincidence — and in our current moment of sexual harassment revelations, it’s definitely a selling point.

So far, women from a wide range of backgrounds are responding.

“The idea of women warmly supporting other women, and the many forms that can take, is going to be the ultimate draw, I believe,” said member Mimi Lok.

Lok, a San Franciscan in her 40s, is executive director of Voice of Witness, a human rights nonprofit organization. She heard about the space through Khong.

“I think there’s a real, ever-growing need for women to find connection and inspiration among each other.”

“It’s just good instincts,” said Sana Javeri Kadri, 24, an Oakland photographer and owner of Diaspora Co., a sustainable spice company. She found the Ruby through its Instagram account. “Women support other women.”

A final way in which the Ruby encourages collaboration? All of its communications are analog. There’s no Slack channel or email list — if you want to talk to a fellow member, you have to, well, walk over and talk to them.

“We have a physical Rolodex, so if you meet someone at the Ruby that you’d like to get to know, you can just look up their file,” Khong said. “These days we have to encourage each other to form relationships. If that means going analog, we’ll do it.”

For more information about joining the Ruby, start at www.therubysf.com

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