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No Boys Allowed: The New Rule of Co-Working Spaces

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 5/01/2017 Ariana Igneri
© Illustration: Cynthia Kittler

It’s 11 a.m. on a recent Friday, and 29-year-old Audrey Gelman—public-relations powerhouse, former Hillary Clinton press aide, longtime friend of Lena Dunham’s—is sitting on a pink couch at the Wing, the co-working space and social club she co-founded this October in New York. A man walks through the elevator doors, and Gelman throws him a friendly wave. “That’s our AV guy,” she says. “He’s basically the only man that comes through here.”

That’s because the Wing—so-named because, like the wing of a house, it’s a separate space—is just for women. Co-working is hardly new; industry trade magazine Deskmag estimated there would be 10,000 co-working spots worldwide by the end of 2016. But female-focused spaces have become a niche in the industry as a response to contemporary feminism and a reaction against fratty venues that advertise kegs and pingpong. “Women are craving community, connection, and confidence, and that’s what we’re going to give them,” says Stacy Taubman, 38, founder of Rise Collaborative, which is set to open in St. Louis this month and will offer members networking events, a book club, and a chance to mentor teens. Then there’s SheWorks Collective, also in Manhattan; New Women Space, in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Hera Hub, in Phoenix, Southern California, Washington, D.C., and Stockholm.

Of course, Taubman’s and Gelman’s great-grandmothers might have been part of organizations like these. A hundred years ago, there were more than 5,000 women’s clubs nationwide whose aim was self-improvement and social reform. Membership in these clubs peaked in the mid-1950s but has been on the decline ever since. “We’re resurrecting this concept,” Gelman says, an assertion reinforced by the Wing’s location on Manhattan’s historic Ladies’ Mile, where women were first allowed to shop without a male escort in the late 19th century.

In addition to a pastel-and-gold-tinted communal workspace and a library with books (yes, there’s a copy of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own) arranged by color, the Wing provides its 400 members with on-demand blowouts, a lactation room, and vanities stocked with trendy beauty products from partners including Glossier, Diptyque, and Ouai Haircare. Membership is $1,950 a year or $185 a month, plus a one-time registration fee of $100—and whatever extra you spend on hair and makeup services or soba noodles and lattes. Subscriptions have doubled since the club opened, Gelman says, and the Wing’s Instagram account has more than 45,000 followers. “Part of that is having a personality and a distinct point of view,” she says, “which means not being everything to everyone.”

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And it’s not. A third of the Wing’s members are from Brooklyn, most are in their 20s or 30s, and pretty much all of them look like they stepped out of an Urban Outfitters ad. Original members include J.Crew President Jenna Lyons, rapper Remy Ma, and Leandra Medine, founder of fashion site Man Repeller. It’s a space for women who are already successful, not a support group for those struggling to get there. Still, the Wing is less expensive than popular co-working spaces such as WeWork, whose membership starts at $220 per month, and Gelman says she wants to make it even more accessible. When asked about scholarships, though, she replies, “I don’t think the CEO of WeWork”—Adam Neumann—“is being asked if he’s giving out scholarships.”

Despite some grousing (there’s a Reddit page devoted to trolling the Wing), Gelman, Taubman, and Hera Hub founder Felena Hanson, 43, are all looking for new locations. The reason for the demand is simple, says Hanson: “It’s a good idea. Period.”


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