Audrey Gelman, the co-founder of The Wing, resigned from her position as CEO on Thursday, as employees publicly voiced their anger with the company's "systemic" mistreatment of people of color and said must do more to fix the upper-class women’s co-working space.
“The resignation of Audrey Gelman as CEO of the Wing is not enough. The systemic issues at The Wing extend beyond one individual," The Wing’s organizing employees said in an email to VICE News.
The Wing confirmed Gelman's resignation and said the company planned to replace her with "a newly formed Office of the CEO," a three-person group that will include co-founder and COO Lauren Kassan, senior vice president of marketing and communications Celestine Maddy, and senior vice president of operations Ashley Peterson.
"The past three months have brought change to our society, our culture, our business and our team in ways no one could have imagined," the company said in a statement. "The Wing remains a vital resource for thousands of women navigating their path to success. But the moment calls for a rethinking of how we meet their needs moving forward and for new leadership that can guide The Wing into the future."
The company has long faced accusations of perpetuating an environment, both for its staff and members, that was far less inclusive than its branding attested to. Gelman told staff over email on Thursday that her decision to step down was "the right thing for the business" and "the best way to bring The Wing along into a long overdue era of change," according to an email obtained by reporter Kara Swisher
Minutes after Gelman announced her resignation, employees of The Wing began to publicly express their frustrations with the company on social media, taking particular issues with the company's treatment of people of color." Using identical messages, the employees said they were participating in a “digital walkout in solidarity with the people without whom The Wing would not exist—particularly our Black and brown coworkers."
"Simply put, The Wing doesn't practice the intersectional feminism that it preaches to the rest of the world," the statement said.
On Thursday afternoon, The Wing’s organizing employees released an additional statement to VICE News saying that 93 percent of the company’s non-executive full-time employees had signed a petition demanding that the board take additional specific steps to improve the situation at the company.
“We are frustrated and saddened by the incompetence and lack of accountability demonstrated time and time again by The Wing’s leadership,” the organizing employees stated. “Last year, our co-founders admitted that their own biases, blind spots, willful ignorance, and conscious decision to prioritize growth led to a dysfunctional company structure and have had a lasting impact on the performance of our business.”.
“Without transparency and clear growth paths for employees, these leadership decisions have disproportionately failed and continue to fail people of color at The Wing,” the employees added.
In November, amidst its own struggles, WeWork—which had led a Series B funding round for The Wing—divested from the company. In recent months, The Wing has additionally struggled to grapple with the economic effects of the the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made crowding indoors medically inadvisable. In early April, Gelman and Kassan told staff that the company’s revenue had dropped by 95 percent as a result of the pandemic—a development which the founders said forced them to lay off nearly all hourly employees and half of of the corporate staff.
Here is the entire statement provided by the The Wing’s organizing employees:
As employees of The Wing, we have been told over and over by our leadership that we’re a mission-driven company, even as the company’s actions consistently prove otherwise. In solidarity with so many of our colleagues — past, present, and in particular, the Black and brown people without whom The Wing would not exist —as a united group of employees, we are participating in a virtual walkout beginning today, Thursday, June 11, 2020.
We are frustrated and saddened by the incompetence and lack of accountability demonstrated time and time again by The Wing’s leadership. Last year, our co-founders admitted that their own biases, blind spots, willful ignorance, and conscious decision to prioritize growth led to a dysfunctional company structure and have had a lasting impact on the performance of our business.
Without transparency and clear growth paths for employees, these leadership decisions have disproportionately failed and continue to fail people of color at The Wing. A quick look at our social media reveals several detailed accounts from former space team members, most of whom are Black and brown people, about the abuse they endured in our spaces and the lack of support they received from The Wing’s leadership. The public perception of The Wing is at an all-time low — and rightfully so.
The resignation of Audrey Gelman as CEO of the Wing is not enough. The systemic issues at The Wing extend beyond one individual.
We have presented several additional immediate demands to our board as well as several commitments to long term changes once new leadership is instated.
Outside of our executive team, 93% of our current full-time employees - 67 out of 72 people have signed the petition in support of our demands
We look forward to working together to rebuild The Wing and create a company, culture, and community that’s equitable, profitable, and representative of the values and causes we claim to uplift.