Female-only coworking space accused of discrimination

Are women only co-working spaces really discriminatory?

Women-only coworking spaces have quickly and not so quietly become a go-to for many working women today. From The Riveter to The Coven to The Hivery to Quilt but arguably the most famous one is The Wing.

Started in 2016 by former political strategist/sometimes actress and the superbly well-connected Audrey Gelman, the women’s only club caught everyone’s attention with its perfectly Instagrammable interiors and the promise of a safe space for women to create and thrive in right before the 2016 election.

This past November, The Wing raised $32 million in Series B funding from WeWork and New Enterprise Associates. In addition to its inaugural Flatiron location, it has opened offices in SoHo, Brooklyn and Washington D.C. with plans to expand nationwide. With a waiting list of 8,000 women and the launch of other similar clubs, clearly, women’s coworking spaces are no trend.

However, they may be finding themselves in hot water soon as this week Jezebel reported that the New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) was investigating The Wing for its compliance with anti-discrimination laws as the club does not allow men anywhere on its premises. Many of The Wing’s members took to Twitter to vehemently protest the investigation (to be clear, it is not a lawsuit.)

Melissa Murray, a professor of law at UC Berkeley who’s currently teaching at NYU, told Jezebel, “I think it’s patently absurd for New York’s human rights commission to be focusing on the Wing when we’ve had, over the last six months, numerous complaints about workplaces being absolutely hostile to women in terms of pervasive and endemic sexual harassment. Leaving aside the fact that so many workplaces seem to be rife with incidents of sexual harassment, now, after #MeToo, I think there are a lot of men in positions of authority who are going to be really skeptical and afraid to mentor women, and that might make a space like this even more necessary.”

Though these spaces were created to be safe havens for women to work as many coworking spaces like WeWork have a reputation for being very male-dominated you do have to question if this exclusivity is violating the law?

On the other hand, this investigation could seem a bit tone deaf in light of the various events and campaigns that have launched in the past year.

Grace Kraaijvanger, founder of The Hivery, which is headquartered in Mill Valley, Calif., with plans to expand, told Ladders, “Spaces with feminine energy offer us an invaluable support system and community through which we can feel more motivated, more productive, more focused and, therefore, more empowered to use the whole of our voice and our talents to realize our fullest potential.”

As for whether these spaces are discriminating against men Kraaijvanger said, “The Hivery is a female-fueled inspiration lab and coworking space built on kindness, community, and creativity. While dedicated to unleashing the unique potential and elevating the voice of every woman, The Hivery is an inclusive gathering place where all human beings are welcome, and a dynamic group of entrepreneurs, creatives, and seekers create meaningful work, form lasting connections, and pursue their What’s Next.

Quilt also is open to men attending their coworking sessions and focus groups, which take place in various women’s homes. However, The Wing does not allow men on the property so it is slightly different, but as of now is unlikely that this will turn into a lawsuit. As of now, The Wing and the NYHRCC have only “mutually agreed to have a conversation.”

On the plus side Hooters in Japan is making a campaign to be the next great coworking space.

The Hooters in Tokyo’s Ginza neighborhood will make 20 spots available to freelancers, entrepreneurs, and other people that work remotely during the day, according to Travel & Leisure. The restaurant chain has partnered with Spacee, a Japanese space rental app, for this collaboration. Spacee reps wrote in a press release that Hooters was chosen because working in an unconventional space encourages “new discoveries” and “innovative ideas.”

Ahh, yes, Hooters: Where innovative ideas are born. So don’t worry ladies, if The Wing closes, there is always Hooters.

Meredith Lepore|is the Deputy Editor of Ladders and can be reached at mlepore@theladders.com.