The Wing opens 'tech bro alternative' space in San Francisco

The Wing, a women-focused club and coworking community, is headed to the West Coast.The startup is op...

Posted: Oct 9, 2018 6:43 PM
Updated: Oct 9, 2018 6:43 PM

The Wing, a women-focused club and coworking community, is headed to the West Coast.

The startup is opening the doors to a fifth location -- and its first in San Francisco's Financial District.

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The two-year-old company provides a space for women to work, eat, attend talks and take meetings for a $2,350 annual fee. (For the sake of socioeconomic inclusiveness, The Wing recently launched a "scholarship" program for women who can't afford the cost.)

San Francisco is a notable move for the startup given the Bay Area is known for being home to the predominantly male-run tech industry.

"A lot of what we hear from women in San Francisco is that it is hard to get into the room where decisions are made. Our message for that is, if you cannot get into those rooms, then make new rooms," cofounder and CEO Audrey Gelman told CNN Business. "There's definitely a tech bro culture here -- and we're trying to provide an alternative to that."

The Wing has about 6,000 members across its locations -- and 30,000 women on a wait list. It recently launched an iOS app to help members connect and network across locations. Gelman and cofounder Lauren Kassan say members have vast backgrounds, from entrepreneurs and tech workers to chemists, graphic designers and professors.

Like its other locations, the physical space in San Francisco celebrates women. It features light pink walls and meeting rooms named after women, including Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the professor who publicly accused now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. It also has lockers, phone booths for private calls, a mother's room, and a cafe and bar stocked with wine from female winemakers of California.

In addition to an art gallery featuring female artists and a library with books authored by women, the space also has a beauty room fully stocked with Chanel and other curated brands.

In California, The Wing is up against a unique business challenge: The presence of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The California law, enacted in 1959, prohibits businesses from discriminating based on factors such as sex, race, religion and disabilities. Sometimes, it can be a loophole for men's rights activists to sue for discrimination against men.

The company, which said it employs some male and non-binary staff members, is also the subject of an ongoing investigation into by the New York City's Human Rights Commission over possible discrimination. The Commission said told CNN Business it followed a tip but couldn't elaborate on the details. Its members and allies galvanized in support of The Wing, posting on social media to defend the company. The Wing declined to comment on the investigation but said it is cooperating with the Commission.

The Wing has raised more than $42 million since its 2016 launch, including an investment from WeWork, the privately-held coworking company valued at $20 billion.

Two years ago, Gelman and Kassan couldn't have anticipated the "Me Too" movement and the increased national spotlight on women's issues. But Gelman said the desire for women to "link arms" with one another was already there.

"Women have faced the same challenges for decades," Gelman said. "Finally people are paying attention."

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