Business 02 November 2018
"It’s like a female golf course,” says Cate Luzio explaining the 15,000-square-foot NoMad space she created as Luminary; a co-working facility for women that acts as an inclusive community for professional development and personal networking.
Seven months ago, Luzio traded in 20 years of banking after a conversation with her lifelong mentor. He suggested that banking wasn’t how she’d spend the rest of her life and while Luzio dismissed his prophecy at first, she realized she did have a greater vision. So Luzio locked herself up in her apartment to fulfill it; producing a business plan for a space that would be the go-to collaboration hub for women in New York City.
“I was tired of having coffee after coffee with women who wanted to learn about banking,” says Luzio on the need to create a place where women could confide in one another. She wants members to feel comfortable in approaching other women who aren’t necessarily in their same career path. “I never would have met someone in media when I was in the banking world,” shrugs Luzio in reference to me, ironically, over coffee. “It’s a way for people to build their network, to break down barriers.
So the story goes, Luzio spent a week in her apartment, pajama-clad, creating a business plan for this kind of inclusive community, where women could work and have a sense of belonging—which for Luzio, also meant self-funding the project to control all variables.
“Self-funding is important to me because it ensures that we stick to, and realize, our vision, build out the space quickly, and make the decisions that are in the best interest of the company from the beginning,” says Luzio.
As a first-time founder, Luzio admits her banking background was critical in developing an efficient, long-term business plan. This included a detailed breakdown of both initial funding and long-term finance goals, as well as programming and development in cross-industry verticals.
Not only did self-funding allow for rapid action on the business plan, but Luzio also felt it was a commitment to her future members. "I want to put my money where my mouth is and invest to address the issues that women, including me, experience, while creating greater opportunities and enriching experiences for women,” she says.
Along with presenting opportunities for future Luminary members, Luzio was committed to investing in opportunity, which began with the women-founded, women-led, local businesses she collaborated with to stock Luminary's kitchen with wine on tap, nutritious food, and decorate the walls to match her sophisticated, minimalist design.
"Working with Ancolie, a woman-founded restaurant in the West Village to William Ris Gallery, a woman-owned gallery in the North Fork... I'm surrounded by such a supportive community that brings me new ideas and puts inspiring women on my radar everyday.”
As a way to encourage and foster these cross-career relationships, Luzio targets the modern, inquisitive woman, who she says is difficult to define. “It’s hard to categorize today's woman with labels and we don't want to; we want to be inclusive regardless of who you are or what you do, or don’t do."
In order to emphasize inclusivity, Luzio explains her idea to create a community board near check-in as a way for members to advertise their presence on a particular day. “If you’re busy on a given day, you don’t have to,” she reassured.
This concept was formulated from Luzio’s former experiences at coworking spaces, where she didn’t interact with other members; she never knew who she was sitting next to. She recognized the lack of opportunity to foster member relationships as a flaw in other coworking environments, and this is how Luminary was initially conceptualized.
Additionally, while she notes her open personality, she recognized some women aren’t as extraverted and therefore may never turn to their neighbor and introduce themselves so the board is a way for staff to say, "hey, this is who is here, if you’d like to meet them, we will personally introduce you”—eliminating social anxiety and emphasizing meaningful connections.
The rest of the space is thoughtfully designed, including a fitness room to host studio classes, such as pilates and yoga; a meditation room; a lactation room; five boardrooms with Smart TVs; “huddle” rooms for smaller meetings (men are allowed for any meetings or events so co-ed teams don’t need to worry); phone booths for personal calls; and a rooftop—all of which are available to book for private events.
"We are going to have a slate of weekly programs from enriching workshops, panels and office hours with top executives and experts, in-residence coaching and a monthly speaker series to express fitness/wellness classes and social events,” says Luzio, adding that the monthly speaker series will launch in December with one of Luminary’s Founding Members, Ruth Zukerman, co-founder of SoulCycle and Flywheel. "If our mission, community and space speaks to you—we encourage you to join us,” she says.
Luminary officially opens its doors on November 14, 2018. You can find more information on membership rates and programming here.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.