The Wing Founder Audrey Gelman Says She Made Big Mistakes
The former CEO of the women's coworking space is speaking out to take responsibility for how the company mistreated employees of color and sustained classist structures.
After four months of introspection, Audrey Gelman is breaking her silence with an apology. On her Instagram account, the 33-year-old founder and former CEO of women's coworking space the Wing wrote today that, “The original vision of The Wing sought to celebrate the sanctity of women’s friendships, create space for them to take big risks and stand up to injustice. But despite these intentions, we began to uphold the kind of societal inequality we set out to upend.”
Gelman and Lauren Kassan started The Wing in 2016, but in the years since Donald Trump became president, the company has taken on a more activist bent and become a mainstay of the Instagram-friendly feminist scene. The Wing raised $100,000 in venture capital, grew to more than 12,000 members and expanded to eight locations across the country.
Earlier this year, however, reports began to surface concerning mistreatment of the company’s LGBTQ employees and employees of color by both members and staff. (About 40 percent of the corporate staff were women of color, but the majority of the club’s members — who paid between $215-$250 per month in dues — were white.) Those allegations were further outlined in a March New York Times Magazine exposé on the company’s toxic culture.
When the pandemic hit, the Wing's co-working spaces closed down, and the company laid off more than 300 people. An employee-relief fund was started, promising $500 grants to employees, but by June, many employees still hadn’t received their checks and were being told the money wasn’t there. When Black Lives Matter Movement erupted following the murder of George Floyd, the Wing posted in solidarity, promising to donate $200,000 to the cause. To many of the Wing’s own employees who had been told there weren’t enough funds to help them, this prioritization of public appearance over company practice was the last straw. They began speaking out across various Instagram accounts, and on June 11, Gelman resigned from her role as CEO.
She's kept a low profile since then, but in today's IG post acknowledged that she’s been “doing some deep work on what happened at the Wing and my personal role in it.” She added that the company tried to grow too fast and put aside the importance of implementing its values in order to make more money. “Was The Wing an activist nonprofit? A co-working oasis? A fast-growing tech startup? Everyone expected something different," she wrote. "We used these different messages as a tactic to raise money, recruit members and employees.... Many felt they were sold a false vision and lost trust in us.”
Ultimately, Gelman said, "Members’ needs came first, and those members were often white and affluent enough to afford the Wing’s membership dues…. This came at the expense of employees, who experienced mistreatment and harm from members, and who felt unprotected by management and ultimately unprotected by me…. As the leader of the company, I had the power to enforce the policies.... My hope is that my errors will not discourage other women from taking big, ambitious ideas into the world, but that they can contribute to the creation of a blueprint for how to get it right in the future.”
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