Credit: Will Austin
A former corporate litigator, Amy Nelson has achieved an enviable career hat trick, merging her professional experience in law and politics with a personal preoccupation with the advancement of women’s economic power to form an inclusion- and female-forward startup. On a practical level, The Riveter provides unique coworking spaces in seven cities (so far) — Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Austin, Dallas, Denver and Minneapolis — to support the professional development of female entrepreneurs. But the company is also working toward a more revolutionary objective: to accelerate the political advancement of women, building toward equity, diversity and community support for all in the workforce.
Fundamental to Nelson’s bold mission is the necessity of reframing motherhood as an asset in the professional world, not a liability. She herself is a mother of four, and notes that women — and mothers — wield enormous power in elections. That is why Nelson is committed to leveraging The Riveter platform to convene brave conversations, and to provide networking opportunities, resources and tools that will lead to meaningful action and change stemming from the 2020 election.
We caught up with this dynamic mother and leader to learn more about The Riveter and its We Decide 2020 campaign.
What inspired you to leave corporate litigation to start The Riveter?
I was a lawyer for a decade, and, for me, my perspective really started to change when I became pregnant with my first baby. I felt like the world perceived me pretty differently immediately, and that gave me pause and also made me start to question how the workforce was for working mothers. I knew that I really wasn’t alone in thinking about it, and the thing that stunned me the most was when I learned that almost half of women with college degrees still “off-ramp” after they have kids.
I did not believe that that was the state of the world everyone wants. So, I started thinking about what my own off-ramping would look like and what [it would look like] if I wanted to start my own small business. Then I started looking for a community of women who have started companies or pivoted to where a degree of happiness brought them closer to their career as a mommy. I had amazing conversations, went out all over the place, but I just couldn’t find a place where I, or other people, could come and talk to the women who’ve done it before. That’s where the idea for The Riveter came from. Why not create a place where people who care about women can come together and make change?
Beyond providing “inclusion-focused, female-forward” coworking spaces, what distinguishes The Riveter’s services?
Coworking is only one of our amenities, but there are various other services for working women — programming experiences, meeting spaces, member benefits and, of course, work space. But I think the thing that is really different is that we have various levels of ambition to talk about and make change for working women across the spectrum, across the country. Very quickly, in two years, we’ve gone from ideas and [founding] locations to being an organization of 80 employees. It’s been a wild ride!
And in that same time, you had another baby!
I had two babies! I have four daughters. My oldest just turned 5. So, [they are] ages 5, 3, 2 and 3 months.
So, you and your husband are raising four children under 5 and you both have busy, demanding careers. What would you say are the tricks of your teamwork that make the “dream” work?
It is very hard, but for me, the cause of trying to change the dynamic for working women is so important. We’ve built our lives to make it work. We’ve also given up things. For example, we don’t have a social life right now. We sleep less than we’d like to. But the tradeoff is very much worth it. We have help: We have a lot of good friends who will pick up the girls, and we try to make every single thing in our lives work for us. We leave our Roomba on every day. We use Instacart all the time, and we serve the same dinner every Monday, same dinner every Tuesday. … It’s just a very solid life path.
But I have to admit that it’s chaos. It’s incredibly hard, and some days I ask myself, “Can I do this?”
It sometimes seems the hardest lesson of parenting is learning to get comfortable with chaos.
I completely agree. You have to acknowledge that nothing’s ever going to be perfect at home or at work and just be okay with it. Then also, what I’ve realized is that life is lived in seasons. I am in a hard season, but I’ve built it this way. I’m willing to do what it takes right now. My life will not look like this forever. You have to kind of acknowledge where you are and then go from that place.
Talk about The Riveter 2020: We Decide initiative.
There are so many issues that are important to working women that need to change, particularly the gender wage gap, which is terrible for everyone, but particularly terrible for women of color. So, we thought, what better time than a presidential campaign season to talk to candidates who are pro-women about how they think they can make a scenario better for working women and their families? We think that conversation has to include working women, from career restaurant employees and people who work in the service industry to women in the C suites of corporations — and definitely be inclusive of women who work at all levels of corporate America and freelancers who work in the multilevel marketing world.
In our conversations with these candidates, we’re asking them, what are you going to do? How are you going to do it? We’ve already hosted something like nine candidates, [including] Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Jay Inslee …
What has surprised or encouraged you most along the way?
Progress for working women is being made — it’s not nothing, but it’s not nearly enough. Sometimes we feel like no one’s listening. How is it okay that there even is a wage gap? How is it okay [that it’s said of the wage gap], “Oh, it will take 200 years to fix”? It’s not okay. We shouldn’t accept that — we can fix the wage gap today.
So, I guess, I’ve been surprised by how excited and thoughtful the candidates have been, and how ready they are to address this issue.
What unique skills do women — mothers specifically — bring to the workplace and leadership roles?
The first would be the ability to multitask in a way that no one else can. I also think we see purpose in our work because it’s really clear, when you have a child, what matters, and so, for me at least, motherhood led me to see a much greater purpose in my work. I feel like I’m out doing good and making money. Whereas, as an attorney, I never felt that way.