Good morning, Broadsheet readers! A tragedy inspires action in Iran, U.S.A. Swimming is accused of ignoring sexual abuse, and The Wing charts a path forward after the resignation of Audrey Gelman. Have a relaxing weekend.
– Winging it. What is The Wing without Audrey Gelman?
That’s the question the women’s co-working company will have to answer in the coming weeks and months after Gelman yesterday resigned her position as chief executive of the high-profile startup she co-founded in 2016. Accused by former employees of fostering a toxic work environment that didn’t live up to its feminist ideals when it came to the women—and especially the women of color—who actually worked there, Gelman also oversaw a business struggling mightily in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Employees who spoke out about their experiences at the company might answer that first question simply: The Wing without Gelman may be a healthier place to work. Ninety-three percent of current employees began a digital walkout from their jobs yesterday, refusing to return until leadership addressed a set of demands; organizers have declined to share with the press the specifics of what they’re asking. Employees announced the walkout by tweeting the phrase “Audrey Gelman’s resignation is not enough”—implying that her leadership was part, but not all, of the problem. (Gelman will reportedly retain her seat on the company’s board of directors.)
To the rest of world, The Wing’s path forward isn’t so clear. The company has always been heavily entwined with Gelman’s own personal brand. Co-founder Lauren Kassan has worked more behind the scenes; she and two other Wing executives, Celestine Maddy and Ashley Peterson, will form a new “Office of the CEO” in the wake of Gelman’s departure. The New York Times reported that CFO Deidra Nelson, one of two black women in the executive suite, resigned.
And, of course, Gelman’s exit adds to a growing list of female founders facing pressure because of a disconnect between their feminist brands and the realities inside their companies. Just earlier this week, Reformation founder Yael Aflalo apologized after being accused of racist behavior, saying she was “not a very good leader.” Refinery29 continues to struggle with how it has treated black writers—see more below—and editor-in-chief Christene Barberich has resigned. In the months before national attention turned so strongly to racism and injustice, the founders of Bumble, Outdoor Voices, and Away all faced criticism over their leadership of consumer businesses that are, to varying degrees, geared toward women.
These upheavals pose the question: Is it even possible to build a business based on feminist values? One thing’s for certain: to do so invites a higher standard. If you don’t live up to that standard—for every woman who works for you—the whole thing will crumble.