The Wing, a social and networking club created by and for women, has dodged many controversies in the past few years: accusations of racism, strict and lightly transphobic admission policies, idea stealing, the list goes on. But a new report from The New York Times Magazine pops the Wing’s “feminist utopia” bubble to reveal that the co-working space’s members, along with CEO and co-founder Audrey Gelman, often treated employees terribly.
In interviews with 26 former and current employees, writer Amanda Hess documents how staff hired to work the front desk were instructed to also clean after members and women of color were tokenized. “It was only so that they could exploit my presence and my image for their own purposes,” a former employee who worked the front desk named Vei Darling said, “to make it seem like they were more inclusive than they actually were.” Women who were hired to work at the Wing were given membership privileges and sold on the networking opportunities, but were relegated to scrubbing toilets, washing dishes, and lint-rolling couches, all of which they were supposed to do out of sight from members so as not to disrupt the illusion that the space was perpetually perfect. Hourly Wing employees were paid $16.50 in New York but said they had trouble being approved for enough shifts to make a living wage.
Employees also reported being mistreated by Gelman, including a front desk employee whose hours were reduced after she failed to use Gelman’s name to welcome her to the space. On another occasion, Gelman called an employee to her office who tweeted disparagingly about a Wing event (she later deleted it and apologized). “I am honestly very down to hear your unvarnished opinions on it,” Gelman told her, but when the employee later inquired about increasing wages Gelman reprimanded her for “impulsive and reactive behaviors”.
But it’s the entitled members who sound the most awful. Several employees reported being screamed at by members about crowded spaces or a lack of products. “A common member refrain was that it was anti-feminist not to give her whatever perk she desired,” Hess reports. There are stories of members remarking on how many “colored girls” work at the Wing or chastising Spanish-speaking guests in the space, and making ridiculous requests:
At one community event, planned at the suggestion of a friend of Gelman’s, black employees served a crew of redheads as they discussed the societal woes of gingers. According to two employees who were present, the women demanded a total of 18 free bottles of wine and stayed past the club’s closing time. When a staff member asked them to leave, one redhead called her a bitch.
And the cherry on top? The Wing members were reportedly terrible tippers.
At the end of the day, the Wing is only a feminist “utopia” (as if a coworking space draped in pink velvet can even be such a thing, yikes!) for the wealthy women who make up its membership, not the dozens of employees who scrub the toilets, make and serve cheekily named mocktails, and restock all the fancy products.