Star SoulCycle instructors Conor Kelly, Laurie Cole, Stacey Griffith, and Akin Akman.
Rob Berry/BFA.com; Denise Truscello/WireImage; Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images for Hamptons Magazine; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
- Shanice Adams, who is Black, said she faced discrimination while working at the SoulCycle in Manhattan’s West Village, where she was told to “fix” her naturally “curly and puffy” hair.
- Ashley Mitchell, a Black former SoulCycle instructor in Boston, said she was once reprimanded for swearing while teaching a class but said white instructors frequently swore with no repercussions.
- Another former instructor, who is gay, said he was scolded for wearing tights and a crop top while teaching — and was told he was marketable only in San Francisco’s gay district.
- The company said in a statement: “At SoulCycle, our priority has always been to build a community centered on our core values of diversity, inclusion, acceptance and love. When we receive complaints or allegations related to behavior within our community that does not align with our values, we take those very seriously and both investigate and address them.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
On March 24, 2017, Shanice Adams was working the front desk at the SoulCycle in Manhattan’s West Village. Adams, who said she was the first person of color hired to work front of house at that location, helped close down the studio that Friday evening and accidentally left with the downstairs-bathroom key.
She was told to return the key on her next shift, which was Sunday. But Adams, who lived in Queens, didn’t want to inconvenience the studio, so she returned the key the next day, Saturday.
“I brought it back to the assistant manager, and her statement to me was: ‘I knew you were Black — give me the keys,'” Adams said.
When asked for comment, the assistant manager told Business Insider: “That comment did not happen. I definitely am not racist.”
It wasn’t the only incident of discrimination that Adams said she experienced working at SoulCycle.
“I went to work with my natural hair, which is really curly and puffy, and they kept sending me to the bathroom to fix my hair,” Adams said. “They wanted me to put in a bun. They never told any of the white employees to fix their hair.”
Shanice Adams said she was the first person of color hired to work the front desk at the SoulCycle in Manhattan’s West Village.
Courtesy of Shanice Adams
Once, when she was written up for being late, Adams said that the assistant manager told her, “I don’t know what you used to get away with under the old manager, but it’s a new day, a new reign.”
Adams said she was fired after three months.
On April 5, 2017, she said she emailed SoulCycle’s then regional director, Ariel Dobshinsky, writing that her work ethic was “overshadowed by my skin color.”
“I felt like every tiny action was under strict scrutiny, far more than ANY of my colleagues,” Adams wrote. “This is not a culture that fosters growth. A company with a culture and community that trusts it’s employee does.” In the email, which was viewed by Business Insider, Adams added that being punctual was difficult because of her long commute.
“I did my job and I did it well. You can ask any of my fellow front desk-ers,” Adams wrote. “When all is said and done, all I hope is that the next person of color who is allowed to grace that front desk at WVLG is dealt with in a matter that doesn’t leave them feeling ostracized.”
The next day, Dobshinsky responded: “Thank you for reaching out. I am sorry to hear this. While I will be investigating how people are being treated, the decision was made due to excessive tardiness. We wish you the best of luck in the future.”
Not long after, the assistant manager that Adams accused of discrimination was promoted to studio manager.
After our recent report, which detailed multiple accusations against SoulCycle — including that top instructors had sex with clients, “fat-shamed” workers, and used homophobic and racist language — other former employees and past riders came forward to share their stories, including new accusations of racial discrimination and sexually inappropriate behavior.
In a statement to Business Insider, SoulCycle said:
“At SoulCycle, our priority has always been to build a community centered on our core values of diversity, inclusion, acceptance and love. When we receive complaints or allegations related to behavior within our community that does not align with our values, we take those very seriously and both investigate and address them. We are committed to continuing to make improvements and ensuring that we live up to the values that our teams and riders expect of us.”
But many said they felt the company protected star instructors despite their demeaning and sometimes egregiously bad behavior, and described the workplace culture as belittling and toxic.
“Looking back, it’s really obvious how SoulCycle tries to both say they are inclusive and value inclusivity and value different types of people, but then when you see who is riding and see who is teaching and you start to peel back the layers, they are exclusionary and they are bullies,” Ashley Mitchell, a former Boston SoulCycle instructor, said.
“It feels like Oz. When you pull back the curtain, there’s no magic. And in some cases it’s worse.”
‘No one is calling me the N-word, but something doesn’t feel right’
Mitchell, who is Black, worked for SoulCycle in Boston from March 2017 to March 2018. “I didn’t even last a full year,” she said.
She said she and other Black coworkers experienced microaggressions while working at the company. When Mitchell started, there were two other Black female instructors. All three left the company by March 2018.
“Not only were there microaggressions, but there was never any effort put into our development, even when rider feedback was good,” she said. “I could never transcend my time slot. I could never transcend my location.”
Most of Mitchell’s classes were in Dedham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. “It’s this sort of place where the people who knew me couldn’t really get to me. It was further from the city. There was no public transportation here. It felt like I was locked away.”
Once, while filling in for another teacher in Back Bay, the most affluent neighborhood in Boston, Mitchell said an entire class started chanting “Bring Ashley to Back Bay!”
“They never did,” she said.
Courtesy of Ashley Mitchell
Mitchell said she felt as though she wasn’t given the same support as white instructors. She said she once got a phone call from the New York office chastising her because she shouted “Let’s fucking go!” while gearing up for a high-intensity moment in a class she was teaching. Swearing is not allowed at SoulCycle.
But Mitchell said her white coworkers frequently swore and received no reprimanding.
“I would take white instructors’ classes and their music was explicit and they wouldn’t get in trouble, even though the policy was that music had to be clean,” Mitchell said. “No one is calling me the N-word, but something doesn’t feel right.”
Black instructors weren’t the only people who said they felt discriminated against at SoulCycle. One gay man, who worked at the company from 2014 to 2018, teaching the last two years he was there, said he was scolded for his choice of clothing.
“I taught in crop tops and tights, and they were, like, ‘Can’t you wear shorts and a tank top?'” the former instructor said. When the instructor, who mainly taught on Long Island, was relocated to San Francisco in 2017, he said he was immediately pigeonholed by SoulCycle’s programming team, who essentially act as the instructors’ agents.
“They told me, ‘You’re only marketable in the Castro’ — which is the gay district — ‘because of how you look,'” the instructor said.
“It was always a blanket statement of, more or less, ‘You need to be more marketable and less gay,'” the instructor said. “It encompassed everything — music choices, what we wore, when we were teaching, how we were marketing ourselves on Instagram.”
Jordan Brown, who worked as an assistant manager at SoulCycle in New York and later in Chicago, before being laid off in March, said he felt there was definitely a bias against “the flamboyant gay guy.”
“The talent team generally recruited tall, straight, male fitness models,” Brown said, adding that instructors were immediately “designated a brand” and told how to wear their hair and what music to play.
“I had a good friend who was Black who became an instructor,” Brown said. “Right off the gate, they were giving him all these hip-hop classes and he was, like, ‘I’m not into hip-hop. I like pop.'”
Yet people told Business Insider that to succeed at SoulCycle you had to fit the mold.
“There are only a few types of people who are accepted into that room both on the podium and off,” Mitchell said, “which is sad, because fitness is about building community.”
‘I would get chills seeing him in the studio afterwards’
The SoulCycle community appeared to exist primarily to serve its moneymaking star instructors, several insiders said. One top instructor was Conor Kelly, a “master instructor” with a sleeve of tattoos and a devout following dubbed the “Conz Crew.”
Lauren was working the front desk at New York’s East 83rd Street location in 2015 when she first met Kelly.
“He could not give a fuck at all. He would smack our asses and he would say, ‘Hey, sexy, come over here,'” Lauren said. (She asked that her last name not be used for fear of being bullied by Kelly devotees.) “He was so inappropriate, and it would be in front of riders, too,” she said.
“And everyone would be, like, ‘Oh, it’s Conor.’ It was horrible,” she said. “I told a manager and they said, ‘It’s fine, it’s Conor, he brings in a lot of money. He doesn’t mean it.'”
One rider who frequented Kelly’s classes said she saw Kelly slapping front-desk staffers’ butts “all the time.”
Lauren said a number of front-desk staffers started to request Tuesdays and Thursdays off because that’s when Kelly taught and they were uncomfortable working with him. Another front-desk staffer who worked there at the time told Business Insider that she asked to be removed from Kelly’s shifts.
“He’s difficult,” she said. “People didn’t want to deal with him.”
Despite his alleged behavior, Kelly maintained an allure to both riders and employees, people told Business Insider. One rider said that Kelly made a point of touching female clients’ waists and hips when adjusting their form.
“Conor put me on his podium once and I was, like, ‘Oh, my God. Life doesn’t get better than this,'” Lauren said. “It was kind of crazy. He was a leader and everyone swallowed their pride and dignity. Anything goes when it comes to him.”
When Kelly invited Lauren, who was 21 at the time, to his parents’ house, in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he also lived, she jumped at the chance. He promised her a ride back to New York City after, she said.
“We had sex and it was very weird … but I wanted him to think I was cool,” Lauren said. “After, he threw me in the shower and said, ‘You’re fucking filthy.’ It made me feel terrible.”
Kelly refused to drive her home, Lauren said, saying he had to be up the next day for a 5:30 “rooster” class. Lauren said she walked 15 minutes to the train station, alone at midnight.
“I would get chills seeing him in the studio afterwards,” she said, “but he was so, so important there, that was a big problem. We were very scared of saying ‘Oh, I don’t like this instructor’ or ‘This happened to me’ because they would say it comes with the territory.”
‘Someone get the fuck on that bike’
SoulCycle’s top-tier talent was untouchable, insiders said. During Lauren Zuckerman’s first week at the Tribeca location, where she was a front-desk staffer and key holder, she was tasked with picking up a snack from Whole Foods for Laurie Cole, one of the company’s most sought-after instructors.
“She has this specific thing she needs to have before her class, and it’s a fruit salad, and it has to have berries. Just berries. And a black iced tea,” Zuckerman said. Unbeknown to Zuckerman, lying at the bottom of the bowl was a single slice of kiwi. “Laurie threw it across the room and she said, ‘Whoever got this needs to be fired.”
Some star instructors had little regard for the studio staffers, people said. Zuckerman said that Akin Akman, a former SoulCycle instructor, who has 67,000 Instagram followers, publicly shamed her one day at the studio for eating pizza.
“He put me on his Instagram story, and he said something like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I just walked into SoulCycle — don’t do this. This is not SoulCycle,'” Zuckerman, who was then a manager, recalled.
“He definitely made people feel bad if they weren’t up to his standards,” she said.
Brown said that Rique Uresti, a popular instructor who teaches in New York, barely spoke with front-desk workers at the West Village location. “If you were between him and where he wanted to go, he would walk through you,” Brown said. “He would spit his gum on the floor. He would drop his headset and microphone on the floor, which damaged the equipment.”
When we asked for comment, Uresti replied in an email: “With all due respect if this is journalism for you, ild [sic] consider digging deeper.”
The other instructors named in this article did not respond to requests for comment.
Laurie Cole and Stacey Griffith at a SoulCycle in Las Vegas in 2018.
Zuckerman said that Kelly would sometimes throw his microphone on the floor after class, and that Stacey Griffith — who counts Kelly Ripa and Brooke Shields as fans — would throw her microphone at employees if it wasn’t working.
“She literally made me cry one day, and she came out and said, ‘OK, she’s not allowed to work here anymore when I’m teaching,'” Zuckerman said. “I was very stressed out. I had no idea people took a spin class that seriously.”
Zuckerman said she thought that Griffith was one of the toughest instructors she dealt with during her time at SoulCycle. Front-desk staff were responsible for everything from her groceries to her dry cleaning, and it was all paid for with the company credit card, Lauren said.
Another former instructor, who taught in New York for six years, said Griffith was infamous among SoulCycle employees for her “Hollywood” demands.
Zuckerman said that if there was a single bike open in one of Griffith’s classes or if she didn’t recognize a front-row rider, Griffith “would come out and yell at us,” Zuckerman said, adding that front-desk staffers would be written up for the latter.
“I was riding about three times a day at this point, to make sure everyone’s classes were filled, mainly hers. If there was even a bike in the back row, she would be, like, ‘Someone get the fuck on that bike’ and we would run in and take off our [work] shirts,'” Zuckerman said.
“We had to come to work in full workout attire and plan on riding at least three times a day, which was not in our job description.”
Brown added that Cole refused to teach at the Chelsea studio after there were empty seats during a 2017 Christmas-week class and he scrambled to fill them with staffers.
Zuckerman said she told her manager multiple times about how inappropriately Griffith and Cole treated her, and she was told it came with the job.
“It’s just insane for a place that’s supposed to be super inclusive and all about being your best self … it caused people tons and tons of stress that some are still dealing with,” Zuckerman said.
‘You’re lucky you’re pregnant’
Even though the riders made the instructors stars, they weren’t immune from such treatment.
The former New York instructor said they remembered taking one of Griffith’s classes at the 72nd Street location.
“Stacey said to this woman, who apparently wasn’t working hard enough, ‘You’re lucky you’re pregnant, or else I’d really be on you,'” the former instructor said. “And the woman wasn’t pregnant. She was mortified.”
The rider reported Griffith to the owners, the former instructor said. As far as the former instructor knew, “They did nothing,” she said. “Stacey was on the bike the next day.”
Brown said that he and his team frequently received rider complaints about top instructors.
“We would direct them to customer service, and we wouldn’t see any change or any clue that the instructors were even being given that feedback,” he said. “You felt, like, ‘If I speak up, I don’t have a job tomorrow.'”
In a recent essay for AirMail, Jill Kargman, a writer and actress, recalled her first SoulCycle ride in New York after a painful double mastectomy in 2018.
“One man-bunned teacher walked up to my bike, jacked the resistance, and said on the mike to his entire sold-out class, ‘You’re just mailing it in here. Like, why bother coming? You’re just cheating yourself!'”
Kargman wrote “a raging email” to Melanie Whelan, SoulCycle’s then CEO. Whelan sent Kargman flowers, she said.
“Her generosity, along with the front-of-studio staff’s warm greetings and big smiles, was eventually eclipsed by the swelling attitudes and ballooning egos of their star instructors. I had a bad taste in my mouth from the way they carried themselves, and snapped at people I liked at the check-in,” Kargman wrote.
The former New York instructor said she recalled sitting in staffwide meetings in which the star talent, including Griffith and Cole, insulted some of their most devoted riders.
“The said such nasty things, and in front of them they were so nice because they knew they were going to give them money or nice holiday gifts,” the former New York instructor said.
Sometimes, though, it was the riders themselves who caused the biggest headache for studio employees.
Zuckerman said one rider was so irate that she didn’t get taken off the wait list for a class with Akman that she told Zuckerman: “I will not sleep until you’re fired. You are so incompetent.”
Zuckerman sent a formal report of her treatment by Akman’s riders to corporate, telling them she didn’t feel comfortable with the way his riders spoke to her.
“They wrote, ‘Hey, thanks for being a good sport. Take whatever you want from the retail closet.’ That was it. They gave me a T-shirt.”
‘You mean nothing when you come out of training’
Former instructors say all the drama of working at SoulCycle, only comes after a grueling training period.
Training is about 10 weeks long, and pays minimum wage for 20 hours of work (though assignments and practice rides amount to far greater worked hours, Brown and Mitchell said).
“It’s pretty tough financially,” Mitchell said. “You’re expected to move to New York for that time period. You’re not given any financial assistance or put up in an apartment.”
The instructors in charge of training could be ruthless, Brown said.
Courtesy of Jordan Brown
“You would see people crying because they had been ripped to shreds during training,” he said.
A former instructor said a female peer had been berated as being too curvy during training around 2015. “One of the instructors said: ‘You can’t teach in a sports bra. You need to wear a shirt over it,'” he recalled.
Another time, he said, a female trainee was criticized as being too thin. “You drastically lose weight when you’re working out that much, and I remember they told a woman: ‘You don’t look strong. How are you supposed to sell strength?'” he said. “It was this constant pushing for this perfect body.”
Instructors could be cut at any point from the program with no warning. Brown said that even after you completed the program, there was no guarantee of employment and people had little choice over where in the country they’d be placed.
“I didn’t understand the concept of ‘We want to break you down to build you up,'” Mitchell said.
“I felt like part of why I was chosen is because of my personality and who I was. It was, like, why would you want to spend 10 weeks trying to break someone’s spirit? Why would that be important?” Mitchell said. “You mean nothing when you come out of training.”
Mitchell said she experienced a decline in health when she began teaching at SoulCycle in Boston, where, as a new instructor, she said, it was mandated that you pedal for the entire 45-minute class, except for the brief arms section.
“I was exhausted,” Mitchell said, adding that she taught, on average, eight to 12 classes a week, sometimes teaching as many as 18.
“I had acne, boils on my face. I was losing a lot of weight. I wasn’t sleeping well. I wasn’t eating properly, just because of the sheer volume of riding and physical activity. It was just insanity.”
The former New York instructor said she laughed when she thought about the envy and awe surrounding her former position at SoulCycle.
“People would say to me, ‘You’re so lucky you work at SoulCycle,'” she said. “I loved, loved, loved my riders, but you don’t know what happens behind the scenes. It’s toxic. It’s cutthroat.
“That sense of community and all the mantras, it’s all bullshit. It was just contrived.”
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