When Michelle Ward, 43, heard about the controversy at the women’s only coworking space dormitory, Wing, last summer, she canceled her membership.
Ward, who works as the CEO of a corporate coaching company Business 90 days launch, saying she “can’t believe” that the company is still up and running. “Personally, I don’t want to be associated with the Wings and what they stand for,” she told The Post.
Last March, after a The New York Times Story accusing Wing of unethical and racist treatment of employees, the feminist haven received a wave of backlash. Former employees created Instagram accounts together.”Flew The Coup,” where the former employees who were harmed began to speak out. There, they shared anonymous stories of being treated like servants, facing “racism and anti-LGBTQIA rhetoric” and even acts of physical violence.
In June 2020, the company’s CEO Audrey Gelman resigns and then after that sorry for her inaction. a february essay in Cut collectively called “an artifact of the Trump era.” As of May, 5 of the original 11 spaces are still operational – Soho, Bryant Park, Flatiron, West Hollywood and San Francisco.
For many previous Winglets, the controversy was reason enough to take their laptops and coffee makers elsewhere.
Since its founding in 2016, Wing caters to the modern woman with a career; it was advertised as a luxury social club, built for high power feminists. With a selective application process, selected interior design, speaker events each Hillary Clinton Foundationand monthly membership fees ranging from $185 to $250, the exclusivity only makes it more desirable.
Ward, who lives in Montclair, NJ, said she wasn’t surprised when “things blew up”. After canceling her membership at the Flatiron location following Gelman’s resignation, she settled with an alternative – The light, a co-working space in Nomad for women (and “male allies”). There, she pays $810 for an annual digital membership, which gives her access to a two-story space with rooftop views of the Empire State Building for an extra $20 a day (2,160 dollars a year for unlimited access to the entire space).
Unlike Wing, Luminary does not have a rigorous testing process. Everyone can join for free, which Ward finds appealing.
“In the three weeks I was a member of Luminary, I connected with more people than I did with Wing in a year,” said Ward, who used Luminary’s online networking platform to looking for assistants.
Cessie Cerrato, a 40-year-old journalist from the Upper East Side, also gave up her Wing membership to Luminary.
“I just feel more at home at the Luminary,” she said. “They are friendlier, they are more beautiful. Even before COVID, I felt like [at the Wing] it has a lot of smoke and mirrors of inclusivity. I feel like it’s a lot of performance.”
Having worked out a strict diet plan before her wedding, Cerrato found Wing’s “no outside food” rule challenging. “They want you to buy expensive and mediocre food at their cafe,” she says. “Sometimes I just take my food and go out or eat at the stairs.”
Sara N., 31, who works in advertising and refuses to reveal her last name for professional reasons, quickly applied for a Wing membership after a second location opened in Soho in 2017. After eight months of radio silence, her application was only accepted after she dropped a friend’s name.
She was excited to support a woman-owned business, but quickly discovered its limitations. When she took her younger brother with her to get her ID, he was immediately asked to leave the premises. (Wings changed no man rule at the end of 2018 due to a sex discrimination lawsuit.)
“I think it’s a pity that in order to promote inclusion, they have to exclude others,” says Sara, who canceled her $250-a-month membership in 2019. “I think what’s really important. It’s important for women to have a space where they feel safe, that’s for sure. But I don’t believe I’m part of the problem. That kind of rubbed me the wrong way.”
Jesi Taylor Cruz, 31, who uses the pronoun “they,” said they also feel uncomfortable in Wing. The graduate student and sustainability educator from Washington Heights was drawn to the space after learning about its childcare program, Little Wing.
But as a black woman with vitiligo, a chronic disease that causes patches of skin to turn white, Cruz thinks the judgment from other members is one-sided.
“There are a lot of looks, a lot of looks,” says Cruz. “Because I wasn’t 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 “safety” concerns, but said she used to work at Wing’s front desk – says the team is “currently in conversation” with Wing leadership, including co-founder and current COO Lauren Kassan, on repairing relationships with former employees.
The group is asking Wing to cancel the former employees’ NDAs and raise money for their employee relief fund.
“We’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the culture and company we’ve built,” a Wing spokesperson said in a statement to The Post. “Since Wing closed this past year, we have had the opportunity to evaluate our operations and culture. In order to best serve our employees and members, we have implemented a set of cultural codes to outline our values and expectations for our members and employees.”
The company has also established an advisory board and cooperated with Jopwell, a career development company focused on diversity and inclusion. Members are now allowed to bring in their own outside food. Due to the limited amenities following the COVID-19 protocol, the membership price has 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 will be interesting to see who continues to support them – and obviously it’s white women and women just want that power.”