So what is The Wing? Probably an interior designers dream with color-coded books lining the walls, lush plants, and bathrooms fully stocked with beauty products.
On a recent visit to the SoHo location of the women’s club and coworking space, sunlight bathed millennial-pink furniture as, one floor below, construction finished on a childcare center.
To its founders, members, investors, and critics, though, the Wing is so much more than a pretty office. It’s a “safe, affirming professional network,” as Audrey Gelman, one of its co-founders, puts it. It is also a “workspace with community-building at its core,” according to Nicole Gibbons, a Wing member.
The Wing has five locations in New York City, Brooklyn, the District of Columbia, and San Francisco, with more than 6,000 members. It offers events like “Prenup 101,” and invitations to intimate evenings with notables such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jennifer Lawrence. It hosts community discussions with titles like “Fuck Harvey Weinstein” and social gatherings like a Dominican Wing Women Happy Hour. It also promotes social activism, chartering buses to feminist rallies, and has had voter registration drives.
The SoHo location feels like an oasis, with everything from the lactation room to the phone booths (named after fictional heroines like Ramona Quimby, Hermione Granger, and Lisa Simpson) designed with women in mind — something sorely lacking in most workplaces.
But this sanctuary, of course, isn’t available to everyone. It’s application-only, and its $215 monthly price tag (or $250 to access all locations), though affordable in the realm of coworking spaces, puts it out of reach for many women.
Per critic Kaitlyn Borysiewicz, the Wing focuses on “the advancement of a certain type of woman.”
The founders engage with their critics — “we love getting feedback,” Gelman says — but questions around exclusivity continue to dog The Wing. These questions come at a time when the “Lean In” brand of women’s empowerment, espoused by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, is receiving increased criticism.
Meanwhile, The Wing is growing. Last month, it raised $75 million in a series C funding round led by Sequoia Capital and Upfront Ventures — venture capital firms that invested in giants like Airbnb, Instagram, Ulta, and Bird. The timing feels right for The Wing’s expansion, too, given that the sharing economy continues to grow. Companies like Airbnb, Uber, Rent the Runway, and WeWork are appealing to consumers who prefer not to commit to clothes, cars, or office space.
All this puts The Wing, which Gelman and co-founder Lauren Kassan started in October 2016, at the center of some of today’s biggest debates about gender, power, and corporate feminism. As it grows, with $117.5 million in total funding raised, The Wing will only become more central to these debates — all of which are poised to become even more pressing in 2019 and beyond.
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