Start-ups, workplace

NYC Start-up The Wing Touts the Absence of Men as a Positive. Do Women Really Need a Space of their Own to Flourish?

I’ve been following the rise of women-only co-working spaces with interest for a while. However, WeWork’s latest investment, instagram-worthy The Wing, has a touch of glamour to it that makes it stand out. For better and for worse.

Its glamorous co-founders are inspiring and articulate, and there’s a carefully positioned link to the late 19th/early 20th century women’s club movement.

This all factors into why The Wing has hit the headlines with such fervor and attracted the investment it has (WeWork just led its $32 million Series B round), but it also compounds the big questions that plague me around the rise of the ‘women-only’ concept.

Do we really need a space of our own to flourish in modern society?

If this is a modern take on a centuries old women’s club tradition that played an active role in shaping community policy and suffrage, should we view this ‘no boys allowed’ trend as a real centre for reform and progressive ideals?

I’d like to, but hold a nagging concern that it detracts from the real opportunity to create a more level playing field for all women in the workplace.

In an article from The Cut, Dayna Evans writes how The Wing’s co-founder, Gelman, is preoccupied by the idea of the “complicated New York woman,” an imaginary figure whom she both sees herself as embodying and would like to be a part of her club. “She’s opinionated, she’s unstoppable, she doesn’t take no for an answer, she’s an original.”

And yet, she needs a space devoid of men to be most effective?

This is not a snub at Gelman by any means, or the concept that women need to support each other, share experiences, be part of building movements together; I believe in that wholeheartedly.

But is a library populated almost exclusively with books by and about women a step too far? Or, dare I say, a step backward?

Bro-ey culture is bad. I get it. Really I do. And while I have never witnessed bro deals being made over beer pong (thank god!) as has been suggested in recent articles, there were golf course deals and old boys networking that were impossible to penetrate.

Perhaps I am missing something here, but bro deals will still be made over beer pong. And is a deal made over the blow-out bar at The Wing really any better?

More often than not I find myself as the only woman at the boardroom table, networking event, or panel. There have been many times I have had to work harder to make my voice heard. There have been those uncomfortable #metoo moments. I am all too personally familiar with the gender pay-gap. All of these issues are very real, and familiar to professional women I know almost without exception.

If  gender specific co-working spaces and communities go some way in actually addressing or promoting these issues, it’s indeed a good thing. But I am yet to be convinced.

Smart, successful, determined women coming together to help and support other women is a worthy and important endeavor.

Smart, successful, determined women coming together to help and support other smart, successful, determined women stinks of  “old boys club”.

I can’t help thinking, if these inspiring and driven women are all clubbed up in their exclusive sororities, who is left to help fight the good fight in the real-world of work around the globe? If our (male-dominated) working environments are devoid of these strong female leaders, then aren’t we ultimately losing out?

The Wing, like it’s many peers and competitors, doesn’t purport to be for everyone. Which is fair, and entirely unavoidable given it’s $3,000 annual members fee and an 8000-person waiting list.

Of course everything points toward the fact that this IS a good business idea. I desperately want it to be a good idea for progressing social and professional mobility too.

I forget perhaps, that the genesis of the original Women’s Club was white middle-aged  women from the ‘leisured’ classes. Yet it ultimately spawned a more inclusive wide-ranging movement that influenced real change.

Because when smart, determined women get together good things can happen.

Let’s hope that’s the case here. Let’s hope these exclusive club members go and build successful businesses.

And when they do, that they go out there and create work environments that are inclusive and accessible for young women of all backgrounds. Most importantly, let’s hope their ‘women-only’ co-working background encourages the pursuit of a professional culture where women and men can collaborate, compete, mentor and lead; help each other thrive.