The Wing is part co-working space, part social club, part candy for Instagram influencers. And it may be exclusively for women but it’s hosting its first male-friendly event this weekend.
In an interview for Yahoo Finance’s Breakout Breakfast interview series on Tuesday, The Wing co-founder and CEO Audrey Gelman said the startup will invite men into its SoHo, Manhattan location.
“We’re doing an event this weekend which is a Father’s Day breakfast. All of our members are bringing their dads and all of our staff are getting to bring their dads. And we have these awesome ‘wingman’ shirts. It’s going to be a really fun way to incorporate men into the space who support our mission of empowering women,” she said.
The Wing, which opened its first location in October 2016, has garnered a lot of hype and praise for carving out a safe space for women and non-binary members to coalesce, network and befriend one another. But until now, men have been strictly prohibited. Investors like NEA general partner Tony Florence and male reporters who have written about the company haven’t been allowed to enter during business hours. This has sparked a fair amount of controversy in recent months.
In March, the New York City Human Rights Commission launched an investigation into The Wing on the grounds of gender discrimination. Gelman, who previously worked as a spokesperson for New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s campaign and a press aide for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, described the inquiry as unmerited but also standard practice.
“It was honestly blown a little bit out of proportion. We had a meeting with the city — and I used to work for the city — and it’s pretty common for New York City businesses and New York City agencies to have meetings. Because of the media attention around The Wing it got a bit exaggerated in the press. So, it was very constructive and [there’s] nothing new to report,” she said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed his support of The Wing and what it stands for. “The mayor is fully supportive of The Wing’s mission, and we are confident the human rights commission and The Wing can work together to ensure the law is being followed so that The Wing can continue to focus on its important work,” a spokesperson said in a statement to the New York Daily News.
In a tweet responding to criticism surrounding the investigation, the NYC Human Rights Commission said, “In NYC, no one should be discriminated against or harassed because of their gender. @NYCCHR uses every resource at our disposal to hold violators accountable and get justice for victims. Last year, we increased fines and damages collected by more than $1 million, collecting $2.7 million.”
In NYC, no one should be discriminated against or harassed because of their gender. @NYCCHR uses every resource at our disposal to hold violators accountable and get justice for victims. Last yr, we increased fines & damages collected by more than $1 mil, collecting $2.7 million
— NYC Human Rights (@NYCCHR) March 27, 2018
Feminist author Roxane Gay responded to the thread: “Are you going to close down Curves too?”
In fact, several lawsuits have been filed against Curves, a chain of female-only fitness centers, though most haven’t made it to court. In 2003, the state of Wisconsin passed a bill, informally referred to as the “Curves bill,” that exempts single-sex gyms from the state’s discrimination laws.
Gelman currently employs 70 full-time staff members, a few of whom are male, though Gelman would not quantify the exact number.
“Their opinions are super valuable and they’re awesome. It’s been really interesting and cool. We work with lots of men and now have men full-time in our HQ,” she said.
“It’s very common in our executive meeting for women of our senior members of our team to be breastfeeding openly in that meeting. That’s a very different atmosphere from what you would normally see in management meetings. For us, it’s about flipping the script in ways that women have historically either shut out or had to hide their personal lives in work and professional, and embracing that and bringing it into the fold.”
The investigation is certainly not delaying Gelman’s vision to go global. Having raised $42 million in funding to date, The Wing currently has four locations across NYC and D.C. and plans to expand to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Williamsburg (Brooklyn), Toronto and London over the next year.
Twenty-two thousand women have applied to become members over the past year, and the startup has accepted over 2,000 individuals. Memberships, which include office space and other amenities, cost between $2,350 and $3,000 annually and scholarships are awarded to women who work in the nonprofit, advocacy and retail sectors.
Melody Hahm is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm. She hosts Breakout Breakfast, a monthly interview series for Yahoo Finance featuring up-close and intimate conversations with today’s most innovative business leaders.