The Wing, a membership club for women, is coming to several U.S. cities, offering a space to work, meet, and network. Should your association be worried? Not if you’re focused on building an inclusive space for women.
In the last year, women have played a key role in large-scale social movements. Look no further than this month’s Women’s March, which again turned out millions of people, or the #MeToo movement, which is giving a voice and face to women targeted by sexual harassment.
Associations are not standing idly by, either. Just a few weeks ago, the National Associations of Professional Women announced the start of a new association—the International Association of Women (IAW)—which takes the mission of NAPW worldwide.
NAPW already has more than a million members, and last year, expanded to China with chapters in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing. The launch of IAW represents a pivotal moment for the organization, says TV personality and President Star Jones.
“International expansion is a natural progression for us. As women’s roles evolve, IAW’s job is to ensure that networking flourishes around the globe,” she says. “Amazing movements like the Women’s March did not just happen overnight. Women got together and started planning what they wanted and created a plan for how they would achieve it. We cannot stress enough the importance of making meaningful connections both on and offline.”
There’s growing evidence that women are willing to invest in those kinds of connections. Case in point: a year-old, women-only club called the Wing, a membership-based coworking space with two locations in New York City. It’s coming soon to Washington, DC, and there are plans for West Coast operations in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Membership in the Wing isn’t cheap: Annual dues are $2,350 for access to a single location or $2,700 for multiple locations. According to Business Insider, the Wing has 1,500 members and an 8,000-person wait list for its two Manhattan locations.
Should Associations Be Worried?
If your association is focused on new member acquisition, you may want to pay attention to what the Wing is doing. Even though dues are steep, the membership pitch seems to be resonating, especially with young professionals in their 20s and 30s.
The Wing’s success begs an important question: What are other membership organizations failing to offer women that the Wing is providing? More specifically, is your association missing opportunities to attract women members?
Only if you’re not providing a space for women to be heard, says Simona Witherspoon Marcellus, director of marketing for TAPPI, the trade association for the paper, pulp, and forest product industry.
In September, TAPPI moved its Women in Industry committee up to a division within the organization, giving women a space to connect and network professionally. With that change comes a bit more autonomy for women-led initiatives like an awards program, mentoring (still in a pilot phase), and events.
Currently, the Women in Industry division oversees several in-person and virtual events. This week’s webinar focuses on work-life balance issues. And longer term, there are plans to make TAPPI’s Women’s Summit a full-day, stand-alone event.
Women are a growing segment of TAPPI’s membership—about 14 percent—but a 2016 benchmarking study confirmed that many women in the industry, as in other manufacturing jobs, face gender-based stereotypes that can prevent them from rising into leadership positions. Even the field’s infrastructure is still largely designed for a male workforce.
“One of the topics at last year’s PaperCon was that safety equipment at the mills does not fit women. It’s unsafe for them to wear the equipment because the boots and vests are too big, and they get caught in the machinery,” says Sarah Lunceford, manager of the Women in Industry division. Conversations about such persistent hurdles are needed “because people don’t always think about them.”
Empowering Women Members
Something as simple as a benchmarking study can be a starting point for focusing on women’s issues. The momentum at TAPPI has been building over the past three years, and it’s in part due to women-led movements, Marcellus says.
“There’s more on of a light shining on this right now,” she says. “And, yes, a lot of new organizations are popping up, but a lot of organizations have also been focused on this for a while.”
TAPPI’s approach to recruiting and retaining women members starts at the high school level. The organization onboards students, specifically those looking for STEM careers, and offers young professionals opportunities to lead on volunteer committees.
“If your organization isn’t addressing women specifically, then you’re probably missing out on a huge segment,” Lunceford says. “Women have been there all along, but are you paying attention to them? Have you been promoting them?”
The huge success of the Wing may be a clue that, in too many organizations, the answer is “not enough.”