What Equal Space founder Citi Medina wants you to know about supporting LGBTQ+ employees

Many businesses start from humble beginnings. Fashion brands have been conceived in studio apartments and apps have been developed in a dorm rooms, but what happens when the business outgrows the space it was conceived in? That’s where Equal Space (stylized as =SPACE) comes in.

As a premium sharespace, Equal Space is designed to equip multicultural business owners with resources, coaching, and a vast network to collaborate with. Located in Newark, New Jersey, Equal Space is disrupting how underrepresented entrepreneurs impact their respective industries. With CEO Citi Medina at the helm, Equal Space is creating the next wave of enterprises led by people who don’t normally see themselves at the top of the business world.

INTO spoked with Medina for our Get INTO It series about how Equal Space is changing how marginalized professionals engage with workspaces, what businesses should do to support LGBTQ+ talent, and what’s the queerest part of an office.

What was the inspiration behind Equal Space and your professional journey to it?

Like many BIPoC-led startups before us, we shaped a solution to obstacles and racialized traumas into a service-driven venture. Equal Space was founded in Newark, New Jersey to create a safe space for startups to grow their ventures while being culturally celebrated. It is a community I wish I had when I began my first company. We aren’t a coworking space; we are a sharespace committed to giving equitable resources and access to under-invested, talent-rich change-makers. In a world that often denies opportunities to founders of color, we say “yes,” affirming their potential and providing programs designed to foster growth.

Equal Space is designed to support the dreams of multicultural business owners, what are misconceptions around sharespace?

One common misconception is that shared workspaces, like ours, merely offer office space, but force their patrons to fend for themselves, as they are viewed as just patrons who want to meet a bottom line. Many people think of workspaces as nothing more than aesthetically pleasing rooms or desks for solitary work. As the founder of Equal Space, I’ve encountered two common oversights at other shared workplaces—they lack privacy and are only suitable for freelancers or small startups. These oversights fail to recognize how valuable resources, networking opportunities, and community engagement prospects are integral and contribute significantly to the entrepreneurial odyssey.

At Equal Space, we’ve intentionally designed our shared spaces to offer privacy options, flexible layouts, and amenities that cater to businesses of all sizes. Our goal is to provide a supportive environment where multicultural business owners can thrive and achieve their dreams, regardless of the industry or stage of their business. Equal Space has always been about community, and we make it an active exercise to be a positive and supportive force for founders’ journeys. 

What should organizations consider when supporting LGBTQ+ talent in the workplace?

Organizations should recognize the phenomenal contributions of diverse talent. If you aim to authentically engage this talent pool, I urge you to consider these three points.

  • Equitable Access to Career Advancement and Talent Investment: Ensure LGBTQ+ employees have equitable access to career advancement opportunities and talent investment initiatives. This includes providing mentorship, sponsorship, and professional development programs tailored to the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals and actively promoting LGBTQ+ employees into leadership positions.
  • Inclusive Policies and Practices: Organizations should implement and enforce inclusive policies and practices that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. This includes providing equal opportunities for career advancement, fair treatment in recruitment and promotion processes, and creating a safe and respectful work environment for all employees.
  • Inclusive Physical Spaces: Design and maintain physical workspaces that are inclusive and accommodating to the needs of LGBTQ+ employees. This can include the implementation of gender-neutral restrooms, lactation spaces for nursing parents of all genders, and meditation spaces for employees to practice self-care and mindfulness. Creating an environment where all employees feel respected and valued contributes to a more inclusive workplace culture.

Once these pillars are enacted, your business will benefit from the immediate and beneficial internal and external advantages of hiring multicultural voices with contemporary skills and expansive perspectives.

Speaking of workplaces, what do you think is the queerest part of an office?

This question is hysterical, but I have to say, any communal eating space is center stage for conversation and connection. The mind of an organization is seen in profit margins and products, but the heart is often built in spaces where your team interacts with one another. I find queer people to be the social conscience of a space, and to that effect, I find my LGBTQIA+ family in those communal areas. 

The pandemic changed how we navigated work and shined a light on the workplace experiences of women, Black, Brown, and LGBTQ+ professionals. How does Equal Space strive to change that?

The pandemic has reshaped our approach to work and brought to light the workplace challenges faced by women, Black, Brown, and LGBTQ+ professionals. At Equal Space, our commitment to change is ongoing and multifaceted. Half of our team focuses on fostering a supportive culture and community for our SPACE(r)s, meeting with them regularly to understand their experiences, celebrate their wins, and address any obstacles they encounter. The other half of our team is dedicated to building partnerships, expanding access, and providing resources to empower our community. Through this comprehensive approach, we are continuously evolving to meet our community’s diverse needs and create a more equitable workspace. We understand that striving for change is continual action; the entire Equal Space team treats equity in a layered approach. Our team works to provide the same resources to each other and cultivate a culture that makes us feel safe. It is not just about looking the part; the organs of your institution have to be healthy in order to produce a healthy team. Your team is the face of your institution, your namesake. 

Since founding Equal Space what has been the greatest lesson you’ve learned?

My greatest lesson has been the act of listening: listening to myself, staying faithful to my truth as a founder, and listening to my community. Listening has been the most revolutionary lesson of my work as the founder of Equal Space; it has been the best teacher of how to build forward and how to mentally grow. Equal Space mirrors where I am in my CEO journey, showcasing my strengths and opportunities for growth.

What advice would you give to aspiring LGBTQ+ business owners?

Do not accept “no” for an answer; focus steadily on your vision and goals, and prioritize self-care along the journey. Most importantly, be your own hero.

Don't forget to share:
Read More in Get INTO It
The Latest on INTO