It turns out The Wing can’t fly. That’s the news from earlier this month when the women-only coworking space announced that it would be closing its remaining six locations.
The business, which was launched in 2016 by Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan with more than $100 million from investors like WeWork and Airbnb, was apparently not what women wanted. Even the attention of celebrities like Hillary Clinton couldn’t keep it afloat.
Though the company claimed that its financial troubles were due to COVID-19 — no one wants to cowork in a pandemic — the truth is that the model of women-only business environments is a scam sold to ordinary women by wealthy feminists looking to make a buck. Women operate in the same economy as men, and it’s silly to pretend they can build a wall around themselves to keep out men or all the problems that supposedly come with them (“mansplaining” to name one).
Membership at The Wing came with a high price tag: At $200 a month — for access to meeting rooms, Wi-Fi and free coffee — it was always marketed toward businesswomen with disposable income. But its policy of preventing people from bringing in outside food also made it harder for women who were bootstrapping their way to the top. As one of the women told the New York Post, “If you were working an eight-hour day there you couldn’t even bring your own lunch, which was absurd to me … I remember getting into it (with) one of the managers, like, ‘Why are you forcing me to buy food everyday?’”
To make matters worse, women initially weren’t even allowed to have men attend meetings they were hosting in the workspace. That should have been a sign the founders were living in some kind of feminist la-la land.
The company was sued in 2018 for gender discrimination, and it revised its policies to allow men, but it still maintained the aura of female empowerment. It also faced complaints that it was inhospitable to Black and Hispanic women. While another member interviewed by the Post thought that the allegations were unfair — “In general, female-led businesses are under more of a microscope — especially a place that is preaching inclusivity” — the fact of the matter is that there is no reason a random group of women who want to rent office space would be particularly likely to get along.
These are women who each went there to make their own business work. They have no common goal and nothing to bond them together besides the experience of being a woman. Sisterhood is not as powerful as some people like to claim.
To be fair, there are reasons for certain all-women settings. Some evidence suggests that single-sex education has advantages over co-ed schools. There are some all-women ride-sharing programs like Safr, which can make women feel safer because there have been incidents of male drivers attacking female passengers.
But in the world of white-collar professionals, it’s hard to imagine what’s to be gained by pretending there is going to be some kind of women’s solidarity in the office. Even the questions about whether women should mentor other women are fraught. On the one hand, our sexual politics have made it much more difficult for men to mentor women without worrying about accusations of inappropriate relationships. On the other hand, if there are fewer women in leadership positions, then why should women have to depend on other women to take them under their wing?
At some point, younger women are going to have to figure out how to get the knowledge and workplace skills they need from men, too.
During one of my first jobs out of college, I had a women scream at me in the office in front of several colleagues, and I met a man who would mentor me for years to come. At my next job, I had a boss who expected me to make the office coffee because I was the only female editor (I didn’t, and I didn’t drink it either). And I formed an alliance with his secretary, who once advised me in the bathroom to never let him see me cry. Every workplace will present its own roster of helpful people at different levels and both genders. And every one will present difficult people you have to learn to work around.
In the meantime, women will have to learn how to speak up at meetings. They will have to ignore some mildly boorish behavior. They will have to learn what kind of environment is conducive to their success and take advantage of tight labor markets to go find the best job for them. They will have to decide which jobs will work best in conjunction with the other responsibilities they may take on at home. And they will learn that every business — no matter how much startup capital and celebrity attention it gets — still needs to survive in the market.