When Michelle Ward, 43, heard about the controversy within the only female co-work space collective, The Wing, last summer, she canceled her membership.
Ward, who works as the CEO of business coaching firm 90 Day Business Launch, said she “can’t believe” the company is still in business. “Personally, I just didn’t want to be associated with the Wing and what it stood for,” she told The Post.
Last March, after a New York Times article alleging the Wing’s unethical and racist treatment of employees, the feminist haven suffered a tidal wave. Former staff members came together to create the ‘Flew The Coup’ Instagram account, where aggrieved former employees began to speak out. There they shared anonymous stories of being treated like servants, confronted with “anti-LGBTQIA racism and rhetoric” and even acts of physical violence.
In June 2020, the company’s CEO, Audrey Gelman, resigned and later apologized for her inaction. A February essay in The Cut called the collective “an artifact of the Trump era.” As of May, five of the original 11 spaces remain operational – Soho, Bryant Park, Flatiron, West Hollywood and San Francisco.
For many former Winglets, the controversy is reason enough to take their laptops and cafes elsewhere.
Since its creation in 2016, the Wing has been aimed at the modern career woman; it was billed as a chic social club, built for high profile feminists. With a selective application process, curated interior design, speaker events that once hosted Hillary Clinton, and monthly membership fees ranging from $ 185 to $ 250, the exclusivity only made it more. desirable.
Ward, who lives in Montclair, New Jersey, said she was not surprised when “everything blew up.” After canceling her membership at the Flatiron store following Gelman’s resignation, she opted for an alternative: Luminary, a co-working space in Nomad for women (and “male allies”). There, she pays $ 810 for an annual digital subscription, which gives her access to the two-story space with a view of the Empire State Building skyline for an additional $ 20 per day (that’s $ 2,160 per year for unlimited access to the entire space).
Unlike the wing, Luminary does not have a rigorous verification process. Everyone is free to register, which Ward found interesting.
“In the three weeks that I was a member of Luminary, I have already been in contact with more people than I had been in the Wing for a year,” said Ward, who already uses the Luminary’s online networking platform to search for an assistant.
Cessie Cerrato, a 40-year-old publicist from the Upper East Side, also dropped her wing membership for Luminary.
“I just feel more comfortable at Luminary,” she said. “They’re friendlier, they’re nicer. Even before COVID, I felt like [at the Wing] it was a lot of smoke and mirrors in terms of inclusiveness. I felt like it was a lot of show.
Having followed a strict diet before his marriage, Cerrato found the Wing’s “no outside food” rule difficult. “They wanted you to buy the very expensive and mediocre food in their cafe,” she said. “Sometimes I would just take my food and go out or eat it in the stairwell.”
Sara N., 31, who works in advertising and refused to share her last name for professional reasons, applied for Wing membership soon after opening her second location in Soho in 2017. After eight months of radio silence, her request was not granted until after she named a friend.
She was thrilled to support a woman-owned business, but quickly discovered drawbacks. When she brought her younger brother with her to collect her identity card, she was immediately told to leave the area. (The Wing changed its rule of no-man at the end of 2018 due to a gender discrimination lawsuit.)
“I think it’s pretty unfortunate that in order to promote inclusion, they don’t have to include others,” said Sara, who canceled her $ 250 per month membership in 2019. “I think he really is. important for women to have a space where they feel safe, absolutely. But I don’t think I’m part of the problem. This kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
Jesi Taylor Cruz, 31, who uses the pronoun “they,” said they also felt uncomfortable at the wing. The Washington Heights graduate student and sustainability educator was drawn to the space after hearing about his child care program, the Little Wing.
But as a black woman with vitiligo, a chronic disease that causes patches of skin to turn white, Cruz said the judgment of the other members was blatant.
“There were a lot of stares, a lot of stares,” said Cruz. “Because I’m not a basic, generic white woman, they were like, ‘Who is this woman in our space? “”
Meanwhile, the creator of Flew the Coup – who requested anonymity due to “security” concerns, but said she worked at the Wing reception – said the group was “currently in conversation ”with Wing leadership, including co-founder and current COO Lauren Kassan, about working to mend the relationship with former personnel.
The group is calling on the Wing to remove NDAs from former staff members and to raise money for their Employee Relief Fund.
“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the culture and the company we’ve built, ”a Wing spokesperson said in a statement to the Post. “Since the Wing was closed in the past year, we have had the opportunity to assess our operations and our culture. In order to best serve our employees and members, we have implemented a culture code to describe our values and our expectations of members and employees.
The company also formed an advisory board and partnered with Jopwell, a career advancement company that focuses on diversity and inclusion. Members are now allowed to bring their own food outside. Due to limited amenities following COVID-19 protocols, membership prices have been reduced to $ 150 per month.
“They are still moving [forward], but they know they can’t move without us, ”said the creator of Flew the Coup. “It’s going to be very interesting to see who continues to support them – and obviously it’s called white women and women who just want that power.”