Culture eats Convictions & the end of Audrey Gelmen’s reign at The Wing
Earlier this year, I was invited to speak at a women-forward community and workspace — The Wing in Los Angeles’ West Hollywood neighborhood.
At the time I was invited, I had seen some grumblings on Twitter about the experience of the staff at the organization, in particular black and brown employees that were hugely underpaid and overworked. A few women of color in my network indicated that it was a white woman’s space, but ultimately kept their memberships because of the connections and social capital.
The space was full of plush pastel seating, femme, gold accents, with a members-only lockerroom chock full of channel body oils and sweet-smelling lotions. Honestly, I’m not even sure of how one would use most of the products in that locker room. The entire space seemed to be designed for a themed-brunch. I envisioned ‘ladies who lunch’ gathering in exorbitantly expensive casual wear.
I couldn’t imagine any of my closest friends being comfortable in that room. My cousin, a new mom, joined me that morning — was not.
That day has lingered in my memory — not the event, but the feel. I was invited in as an ‘expert’ and was treated with respect. But it wasn’t lost on me that while all the ‘leaders’ were white women, the entire support staff seemed to be womxn of color. There was little to no camaraderie. While in line for ordering lunch later that day, I apologized for taking too long — and the cashier candidly responded with “Take your time, I don’t care, I work for minimum wage”.
It’s almost as if this young cashier, barely out of high school, saw me. She saw my working/middle-class upbringing. She saw through the hair and makeup. She instinctively knew I didn’t belong in that space. Heck, I couldn’t imagine any of my closest friends being comfortable in that room. My cousin, a new mom, joined me that morning — was not.
A few months later Amanda Hess at the New York Times threw the door open, calling out the charade of this applauded women’s haven. Three months later, Audrey Gelman stepped down from her post as Founder and CEO.
There are many critics of Gelman. Many have endured explicit and implicit racism, discrimination, toxic working conditions. Culture catches up to companies and founders. This #blacklivesmatter movement and moment has empowered a new generation of white allies to step up alongside their BIPOC colleagues and fight to make work more intersectional, equitable, and impactful.
Ultimately, I think this may have been what The Wing was created for — to embolden womxn everywhere and demand justice.