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Inside the fall of the Wing, the $365M women’s co-working startup that closed its doors for good this summer

October 11, 2022, 11:03 AM UTC


That was the number of women on the Wing’s waitlist at its heyday in early 2020. The Wing, a female-focused co-working space and club, had drawn visits from the likes of Hillary Clinton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Jennifer Lopez. It was made out to be a sisterhood of sorts—one for professionals, freelancers, and creative types, with all the plush amenities and the Instagrammable, millennial-pink interior meant to satisfy a “girlboss.” With lactation rooms and daycare services, the Wing promised to be a safe space for women, designed by women. 

The Wing had notched a valuation of $365 million and was backed by the likes of WeWork’s Adam Neumann, Sequoia Capital’s Jess Lee, soccer player Alex Morgan, and Serena Williams’s Serena Ventures.

So what happened? This summer, the Wing became yet another example of a high-flying startup spiraling to its demise. In a feature for Fortune, my colleague Paige McGlauflin delves into what went wrong, and how scandal, tough economics, and a hyper-focus on scale drove the Wing to failure. 

Interviews with founders, investors, executives, and former employees detail how the Wing grew—then fell apart, and McGlauflin’s reporting reveals a founder obsessed with expansion who seemed reluctant to ask for help, then later, an IWG subsidiary grappling with scandal and poor business management in the wake of a pandemic economy. (The Wing didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.)

“There wasn’t a lot of transparency around what the strategy was at all,” a former executive told McGlauflin. An investor said Audrey Gelman, one of the two co-founders and the company’s early CEO, didn’t really interact with some of the smaller investors. Then there were scandals, such as its handling of a white guest allegedly harassing a Black member and her guest, or later, the New York Times exposé that detailed accounts of mistreatment and disillusionment from 26 staff members. After the murder of George Floyd rocked the U.S., the Wing pledged to donate $200,000 to Black Lives Matter on the same day it allegedly informed staffers it couldn’t pay for the $500 grants it had previously said laid-off employees could apply for. Gelman ultimately resigned as CEO, and later, flexible-office space pioneer IWG acquired a majority stake in the Wing for an undisclosed sum.

While the company seemed determined to start a new chapter, it set its sights on opening new office spaces even as several of its pre-existing ones still remained closed during COVID. Employees told McGlauflin that members continued to mistreat staff members, with one stating that 20% of the people she worked with “treated you like you were the help” or “said things that were not appropriate.” The company suffered from high leadership turnover, and it never seemed able to shake the stigma of its past scandals, which continued to haunt the company.

For former employees, many felt a sense of relief at the closure of the Wing, McGlauflin tells me. “Several told me they were surprised it took that long for the Wing to shut down,”  she says. “The writing was on the wall for a lot of them.”

You can read more about the Wing’s demise in the full feature story here.

Doing good by doing good. Fortune’s Change the World list went live Monday, our annual list of for-profit companies tackling society’s biggest challenges. The 2022 list—Fortune’s eighth—features companies, both big and small, that are addressing climate change, the war in Ukraine, gender and racial inequities, and lack of economic opportunity. They range from drone-delivery pioneers, green-energy architects, pharmacy newcomers, and digital banks. You can read about the companies that made this year’s list here.

See you tomorrow,

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
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Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.


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