Safe Spaces for Women; Just Not Women of Color

A couple of weeks ago, the founder of the Wing Audrey Gelman wrote a feature for Fast Company where she addressed some of the issues that her company was having. If you don’t know The Wing is an all-women co-working space that’s experienced tremendous growth in the past few years. There are a few locations here in NYC and I know a few women who are members and love it.

Some of the issues that The Wing has been experiencing have been related to race and lack of inclusivity to women of color. I have only been to The Wing once as a guest, and I know that I didn’t feel like it was a space created for me. As a woman of color, I understand that many of the spaces I enter were not created for me, but because of anti-discrimination laws, it is illegal to prohibit me from being there. I didn’t know the exact issues that the Wing was having, but I did know that at one location they started a group where women of color were discussing racism with white women helping them to understand (that’s another topic for another day).

The Wing was recently sold to Google so this article was more a PR tactic than the founder of a company actually caring about how her clients and employees might feel. I have been in similar positions where actions taken on behalf of management are less about how their employees of color feel and more about what looks good for their company. It’s a painful feeling to wake up every day and work in an environment where you don’t feel valued and also don’t feel understood.

When I first heard about the Wing I wanted to join. It seemed like they were really championing women’s rights and empowerment and I loved that. The only reason I didn’t join is that it’s an expensive membership fee. After going and knowing more members from The Wing I decided that it wouldn’t be a place where I would grow and feel at ease.

After reading what Audrey Gelman wrote, I wish she had been more transparent. It’s ok to say that you set out creating a space that was not inclusive. Just because you are a white woman does not mean you will be a better boss than a white man. You both come from a place of white privilege. A company that you create will only have the culture that you are able to instill in it. If you don’t see your privilege you will never be able to address the issues that your privilege creates, and will continue to attract people who are coming from the same privilege as you. This vicious cycle is only highlighted when someone different comes along.

The Wing outlined some of the ways that they are addressing these issues moving forward: more women of color in leadership positions and creating a space where their members and staff can bring forth any complaints or grievances. This is a start. Only time will tell if it will be enough.

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