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Where did The Wing go wrong?

The controversial, women-only coworking community closed last year, sending the self-branded feminist utopia to a crashing end.

10/03/2023

3 min read

The Wing, New York

Words: Chloe Petersen Snell


Loved by some and loathed by many (this author included), the term ‘girlboss’ and its iterations has permeated our lives since 2014 – a concept that has become a mainstay of contemporary capitalist feminism. It’s reflected, perhaps, in the story of women-only coworking space The Wing: good intentions, poor execution.

Good intentions

The business world has historically been male dominated; ‘boys club’ networks becoming the default. Female-only working spaces can empower and enable women to build a network of support and provide useful resources for women. And, as companies move towards new ways working and hybrid setups, a beautifully designed space filled with like-minded people and a strong messaging is an attractive choice.

From colour-coded books (from female authors) to floral-drenched beauty rooms and breastfeeding facilities (stocked with woman-owned brands), the positioning of the Wing was that of a feminine utopia: a thoughtfully designed, pastel-upholstered haven. Designed for women, by women, even the workplaces’ temperature was regulated to better suit the female body, and most furniture was customised and created with shorter legs.

First opening in 2016, eight locations popped up across the US, arriving in London in 2019. Founders Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan wanted to create a space for women to network, freelance and socialise, inspired by men’s clubs of the early 20th century. Spaces offered a diverse array of programming, hosting over 80 events a week throughout the entire Wing portfolio, ranging from support circles to celebrity panels.

The cracks

Since the first Wing opened in Manhattan, it quickly became the biggest – and certainly the most talked about – coworking space and social club aimed specifically at women. This was partially due to the fact that the brand was founded upon a paradox; emphasising feminist values such as emancipation, empowerment and equality, while the business is based upon the elite institution of a private members’ club. Initially launched as an exclusive space for women, The Wing eventually changed its no-men policy after a series of complaints and a legal investigation into whether this gender-specific rule violated various laws. The membership policy evolved (controversially and thanks to a very public lawsuit) to accept members with any gender-identity – as long as they aligned with the company’s mission.

Arriving in London in 2019 with the support from the It-ist of It Girls (from Alexa Chung to Cara Delevingne), it seemed the concept would take off in the UK just like its sister projects across the pond (despite being triple the annual membership fee of women’s club AllBright and pricier even than Soho House). However, the cracks started to become irreparable just a year later in 2020, with allegations of racism, abuses of power and exclusivity resulting in another lawsuit and strikes from the company’s workers of colour. Accused of not practicing the intersectional feminism it preached and prioritising women with privilege and money, the uproar resulted in a ‘digital walkout’ and founder Gelman’s resignation.

The Wing ceased operations in August 2022, citing the economic challenges of the pandemic. “With the backdrop of the Covid pandemic and increasing global economic challenges, we have been unable to recover and grow the level of active membership and event activity necessary to run a financially sustainable operation,” said the email sent to members.

Lessons learnt

Of course, The Wing won’t be the last coworking space to cater specifically to women and marginalized groups, despite the challenges that come with a restricted reach. For a time, the niche coworking sector saw a huge uplift in popularity, as operators found ways to differentiate themselves within the increasingly crowded market. Bolstered by the pandemic, the total number of coworking users is set to reach 5.1 million people by 2024, and the competition is tough. Yet, these spaces have struggled in recent years to sustain their limited business model. Women-oriented coworking spaces still exist and operate today, and many have opened their doors to all in order to expand their membership base, while still accommodating the unique needs of women. Community thrives when truly inclusive and success can be found by providing a safe space that offers resources and authentic support – while making room for everyone.

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