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Not so long ago, Audrey Gelman, the CEO and co-founder of The Wing, a women’s co-working startup, was a happy harbinger of a new wave of woke and ready “girlbosses.”
“Last fall, I was the first visibly pregnant CEO on the cover of a business magazine—a powerful symbol in a climate in which women-founded startups attracted less than 3% of venture dollars,” she writes in Fast Company. That buzzy cover story, which was published by Inc, felt good at the time, but looking back she says it contributed to the myth that women really can have it all. “When we started our company three years ago, it was to build a community where women could gather, connect, and feel safe and supported,” says Gelman. “The myth doesn’t account for the reality that running a company is messy, terrifying, and often chaotic, especially in the early years.”
What follows is Gelman’s attempt to address the persistent critique that has tarnished The Wing’s shine: That she and her team, either by accident or design, had created a culture that was hostile to women of color.
Tangible problems first became public last summer, when The Wing member Asha Grant and a guest, both Black, were harangued by a white member over a parking spot. The harassment, alleges Grant, continued inside. Wing staffers were unprepared to mediate, and the aggressor was allowed to stay while the Black women did not feel safe enough to stay. The incident got enough traction that it prompted The Wing to issue a statement published by Zora, the Medium magazine for women of color:
“In this specific incident, we struggled to get it right and we are deeply sorry. We know how important it is to build an environment and team that reflects the diversity of our membership and the cities we inhabit, especially considering the historical and systemic marginalization of women of color in the context of women’s spaces. This was a humbling experience for our team and we are currently putting measures in place to make sure we handle incidents like this one much more thoughtfully in the future.”
At its core, The Wing is an elite private women’s club, offering high-tone gatherings along with co-working—a self-proclaimed “accelerator of the [feminist] revolution,” served daily with rose, scented candles, and breastfeeding spaces. But to many, it was also a poster child for out-of-touch white feminism. Or something like that. “The Wing has been the subject of seemingly endless criticism—accused of being too rich, too white, too cis-gendered, too feminist, not feminist enough, too liberal and not liberal enough,” writes Linda Kistler in this searing deep dive.
But as a high-priced antidote to bro-ish career clubs, it felt doomed from the start.
“There’s an interesting (but not surprising) juxtaposition between their mission of professional, civic, social, and economic advancement and the reality that women of color in the workforce face,” wrote Kaitlyn Ram Bo on The Melanin Collective blog shortly after The Wing launched. “Namely, that on the whole, women of color just couldn’t afford access into this so-called space of ‘economic advancement.’”
Writing in Zora, Char Adams calls for more workspaces designed for Black women, “instead of forcing us into largely White spaces that fail to cater to our needs,” and that allow bias to run unchecked, the kind “that often moves White and non-Black people in these spaces to view Black women as inherently dangerous and threatening.”
Gelman’s piece contains a post-mortem describing where she thinks she went wrong—a rush to build a community business at scale led to problematic shortcuts.
“We didn’t dedicate adequate attention to building inclusive recruiting practices,” she begins. “Employees were required to attend diversity and antibias trainings, but it was a one-time requirement and didn’t go deep enough.”
More to the point, they didn’t listen to their employees or community members. “Rather than creating a healthy feedback loop and addressing with urgency the issues that members and employees identified, we prioritized business growth over cultural growth.”
I’ll leave you with this Fortune Commentary piece by Trudy Bourgeoies, the founder of the Center for Workforce Excellence and Julia Taylor Kennedy, the executive vice president at the Center for Talent Innovation.
Their advice begins and ends with one core principle: believe Black people.
“Workplace racism can end only when employees who are not Black see, hear, and accept the truth about what their Black colleagues have experienced and continue to experience,” they say. Citing data conducted by a research group at the Center for Talent Innovation, 58% of black professionals have experienced racial prejudice at work—a higher percentage than any other racial or ethnic group surveyed.
Worse, while 65% of Black professionals responded that Black employees must work harder to advance in the workplace, only 16% of white professionals agreed.
To address this, difficult conversations are ahead, and Bourgeoies and Kennedy offer all the right tips: Gather representation data on the jobs held by Black professionals throughout the organization. Look at employee survey data. Then, create a safe space for company leaders and talent experts to face any facts and create accountable systems.
But at some point, people in charge will have to meet with Black (and other marginalized) employees.
“Don’t be surprised if you unearth some surprising stories,” they warn, a tactful way to say upsetting. “You don’t have to have all the answers. You simply have to have the courage to create an environment that can promote a meaningful conversation, learning, and understanding.”
Until these conversations become commonplace, companies like The Wing will never fully take flight.
The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act is passed by the House Yesterday’s historic vote makes the bill, which classifies lynching as a hate crime, the first to make it through Congress since 1900. "Today, we send a strong message that violence—and race-based violence, in particular—has no place in America," said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who introduced the bill in January 2019, in a statement. The bill was named for Till, the 14-year-old boy who was kidnapped, beaten, and lynched in 1955; his death galvanized the nascent Civil Rights Movement. The vote was 410 to 4; the holdouts were Independent Rep. Justin Amash and Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert, Thomas Massie, and Ted Yoho.
Someone in every state but Vermont had complaints about the 2020 Super Bowl halftime show Not sure that’s the big takeaway here, but plenty of people across the country thought the show was just too sexy for families who simply wanted to watch politically neutral but highly compensated gladiators risk traumatic brain injury in peace. The Federal Communications Commission is reporting more than 1300 complaints from viewers, but some may have been duplicates to better make sure they got the manager’s attention. "I am disgusted that these performances were not censored beforehand…I feel bad for my daughters who think that type of behavior is acceptable and that they should dress and perform inappropriate acts," said one complaint. By comparison, the 2004 halftime show with Justin Timberlake’s betrayal of Janet Jackson received a record 540,000 complaints. Adam Levine’s 2019 exposure of his bony chest barely got a blip.
The Department of Justice creates a new “denaturalization” section In a statement, the Department says the section is preparing to build on the work they already do revoking citizenship from people like “terrorists, war criminals, sex offenders, and other fraudsters who illegally obtained naturalization.” They are signaling an escalation of these efforts, citing “the growing number of referrals anticipated from law enforcement agencies motivated the creation of a standalone section dedicated to this important work.” The announcement chilled legal experts. “And do not think they will stop just with naturalized citizens,” tweeted Sherrilyn Ifill, President & Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “The paranoia abt dissent, the denigration of the humanity of ‘others’—they will try to find ways to challenge the status of ‘disfavored’ citizens.”
Producers of new Malcolm X documentary under fire for not including any women scholars Who Killed Malcolm X? is a six-part series that recently debuted on Netflix to widespread acclaim—at first. Now, directors Phil Bertelsen and Rachel Dretzin, and producers Shayla Harris and Nailah Ife Sims, are under fire for their erasure of female scholars and producers. “The exclusion of women scholars in the series is not only deeply problematic, but also presents a very skewed (and inaccurate) portrayal of this history,” write historians Jeanne Theoharis, Keisha N. Blain, and Ashley Farmer in this opinion piece. And then they give a lengthy and impressive list. The series has also prompted the Manhattan district attorney to re-open the case.
A rich American tried to turn Myanmar into his CBD empire. Guess what happened next Through a traditional lens, this is the story of enterprising entrepreneur-millionaire John Todoroki, who tried to create a second act as a mogul running a vaguely sustainable enterprise focused on high-quality, all-natural CBD. But through a colonialist lens, it’s a cautionary tale of hubris. To turn himself into a trailblazing hemp farmer, he chose to develop his extensive operation in Myanmar, a politically complex and desperately poor part of the world that would lower his production costs to near nothing…and, he figured, who would greet him as a liberator. “People, planet, profit,” Todoroki was known to say. “I know, it’s a cheap phrase that people throw around loosely, but that was the idea.” He thought it was the start of an empire until he ended up in a 108-degree communal prison cell. But that’s not the worst part.
GEN on Medium
A now a word from a “posh white bloke” about poverty Ben Phillips, the campaigns and policy director at Oxfam, a global poverty alleviation nonprofit, says that a self-identified posh white bloke, he exemplifies the problem. “Posh white blokes aren't just over-represented in the world of power and money – we're over-represented in the leadership of the movements challenging that world.” As a result, equality initiatives are run by people who lack the authentic, lived experiences of people who were born into systemic poverty. It’s a moral failure that is impeding progress. “A lot of money was spent teaching me how to spin a line and frame an argument and look like I know what I'm talking about,” he says. “[I]n the toughest times I've been aware at my core that my British passport, my connections, the colour of my skin and being a man are insulators from the worst.” These blokes have their hearts in the right place, right? Now what?
Leader pro tip: If you’re managing a jerk, make them drive a junker car for awhile Researchers from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas found that drivers of expensive cars are less likely to stop and let pedestrians cross the street. Worse, the likelihood decreases by 3% for every “extra $1,000” that their vehicle is worth. The researchers attribute the jerk behavior to a lack of empathy and "a sense of superiority over other road users." They further tested the theory by race and gender, using volunteer pedestrians. Drivers stopped 31% of the time for both the women and white volunteer pedestrians, compared with 24% of the time for men and 25% of the time for black volunteer pedestrians. And lest you think this is all fun and games, know this: “Pedestrian crashes are not equitably distributed; people of color and males are overburdened.” There’s a growing body of work that finds a relationship between high-status car drivers and jerk behavior.
“True feminist solidarity across racial lines means being willing to protect each other, speaking up when the missing women are not from your community, and calling out ways that predatory violence can span multiple communities."
—Mikki Kendall, author of Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot