Women’s co-working space The Wing comes to Boston
Annemarie Dooling tried joining a traditional co-working space but found it difficult to concentrate. There were Nerf gunfights and impromptu taco parties. And so much beer.
It was basically a “playground for people who think they’re working,” she said. A “bro” paradise.
“I’ve been mansplained to about topics I’m an expert in,” said Dooling, a product manager at The Wall Street Journal who commutes from Philadelphia to New York, where she joined The Wing, a women’s co-working and community space. Women in Boston will soon have the same option with the opening of its eighth location Monday, in the Back Bay.
Dooling appreciates not just the tampons in the bathroom and the nipple cream in the mother’s room but such thoughtful touches as bag hooks under tables. Air temperature that doesn’t force her to huddle under a blanket. And a peaceful atmosphere that actually allows her to get things done.
The Wing has expanded rapidly since it opened its first location in New York in 2016 (it has three there now), capitalizing on both the demand for shared office space and women seeking a supportive environment. In less than three years, its founders have raised $117.5 million in venture capital funding and attracted more than 8,000 members — including celebrities such as Shonda Rhimes, Mindy Kaling, and Lena Dunham, a childhood friend of one of the founders — with thousands more on the waiting list. Three more locations are in the works this year, including the first international spot, in London.
The spaces are filled mostly with women working — at desks with laptops, stretched out on couches wearing headphones, pumping breast milk while on conference calls. But there’s much more than work going on: Politicians and TV stars stop by; new moms and women in recovery hold meetings of emotional support groups; panel discussions take place on topics such as R. Kelly, mass incarceration, and white feminism. Beauty rooms are stocked with curling irons and nail files; shower areas have razors and lint rollers. Two locations, in New York’s SoHo district and in West Hollywood, Calif., have on-site child care.
The concept is women-centered down to the books on the shelves and the art on the walls. In Boston, where membership is $185 a month ($250 for access to Wings in other cities), construction of the two-floor space at 699 Boylston St. was overseen by the woman-led company Elaine Construction. The cafe’s menu features fare from local female purveyors and chefs including Barbara Lynch and Tiffani Faison. The private phone booths are named for local fictional women, such as Hester Prynne and Jo March.
Most of the furniture has been custom-made with women in mind, from lower seats based on the average height of women (5-foot-4) to velvet fabric that doesn’t stick to bare skin. The temperature is set at 72 degrees, unlike in many office buildings where temperatures are much cooler — and based on men’s metabolic rates, according to a study by two Dutch scientists.
The Wing was cofounded by Audrey Gelman, a political consultant who traveled frequently and found herself “using random bathrooms” to change and charge her phone, and Lauren Kassan, a businesswoman in the fitness world. They read up on the women’s clubs that emerged in the late 19th century, where women gathered to work on social issues such as suffrage and citizenship, and decided to launch a modern-day version.
The first space opened in Manhattan in October 2016, when many women thought they were about to see Hillary Clinton elected president.
“We felt that this was the perfect moment in time to be launching a business like this because this was the golden age of women in power, and we were going to have the first woman in history running the country,” said Gelman, who worked on Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 2008.
Then Donald Trump won the election — and the need for a space for women took on a whole new meaning.
The weekend of Trump’s inauguration, The Wing took several busloads of women to attend the Women’s March in Washington. Later that year, the #MeToo movement erupted, prompting the community to organize an event called “[Expletive] Harvey Weinstein.”
In the fall of 2018, The Wing held a viewing of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony about allegedly being assaulted as a teenager by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and made sure a therapist was on hand. When Alabama approved an almost total ban on abortion in May, following severe abortion restrictions in other states, The Wing appealed to its members to join it in donating to agencies supporting reproductive freedom and opened up its spaces to lawyers and advocates working on abortion rights.
The Wing has come under fire for excluding men, leading the New York City Commission on Human Rights to open a discrimination investigation. The company is also being sued by a Washington man who claimed he was rejected because he wasn’t a woman.
In this age of gender fluidity, putting any emphasis on gender can be tricky. Last summer, as the number of transgender and nonbinary members grew, The Wing changed the wording of its acceptance e-mail from “She’s landed” to “They’ve landed,” to reflect the pronoun preferred by some gender-nonconforming people. And earlier this year, the company adopted a formal membership policy welcoming everyone regardless of their gender identity, prompting the New York City Commission on Human Rights to close its case.
Still, The Wing is decidedly female-focused. Its application asks potential members to detail how they’ve supported the advancement of women. Its magazine and podcast are called “No Man’s Land.”
Two of the ads The Wing submitted to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in the run-up to its Boston launch — one of which read “Want to mute the mansplaining and start your own conversation?” — were rejected by the T for violating advertising guidelines that forbid “demeaning or disparaging” content.
The Wing has also been criticized for being too expensive, particularly for lower-income women who may need it the most. But the company points out that a membership is roughly half the cost of WeWork’s and other co-working spaces, and last year it started offering scholarships to people who work to support marginalized girls and women.
Lawyer Casey Rose Shevin, who cofounded the online divorce marketplace Divorceify, signed up for The Wing shortly before she moved to Boston this month. She has already tapped into its network of female professionals, via an app, as she looks to hire freelance copywriters and illustrators, and in the fall she’s holding a panel on premarital advice at the Boylston Street space.
Shevin, 34, who has a nearly 2-year-old son and plans to have another child, is happy to have a place to work where she feels empowered and at ease.
“I just don’t feel like anyone would look at me funny if I had to bring my newborn in,” she said. “It’s a place where you can feel comfortable.”