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Faced with play, WeWork adds a woman to his completely masculine plate

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Last month, WeWork took an important step in the direction of its hypnotic initial public offering, whereby the supervisory authorities revealed the composition of the board. But the fast-growing New York start-up, renting shared office space, was immediately attacked by critics who found that the roster did not contain any women.

Now the company says it will add a woman – Frances Frei, professor at Harvard Business School – to the board, according to an application announced on Wednesday. Within a year of its IPO, the company wants to add another director to its seven-member board, "with a commitment to increase the gender and ethnic diversity of the board," according to the amended application.

Frances Frei, professor of technology and operations management at Harvard Business School, has been recruited to join the WeWork board.

(Harvard Business School)

Women remain a minority in the technology industry and diversification of corporate leadership is considered a crucial step towards solving problems such as discrimination and harassment. Board seats often go to the investors of a company, said Ariella Steinhorn, co-founder of Simone, an organization that advocates equality in the workplace. And those investors, she says, are often white men.

“These days, it should be a no-brainer to diversify your board from the start, especially if you are a company that claims to be a platform for & # 39; community & # 39 ;, & # 39; culture & # 39; and & # 39; raising awareness & # 39; for thousands of companies worldwide, "Steinhorn said in an email and repeated the language that WeWork used to describe his mission in an IPO application last month.

WeWork spokesman Adrian Zamora declined to comment.

Several WeWork board members – including Bruce Dunlevie, one of the founders of venture capital company Benchmark Capital; Ron Fisher, founder of SoftBank Capital; and John Zhao, founder of Hony Capital – were appointed by venture capital companies that financed the company. The other three directors are Lew Frankfort, the former Chief Chief Executive; Steven Langman, co-founder of the worldwide private equity company Rhone; and Mark Schwartz, a former Goldman Sachs director.

Frei was previously a senior vice president at Uber, where she was tasked with cleaning up a toxic corporate culture. She did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The company's all-male board is not an anomaly with newer companies. Approximately 40% of the companies that have been listed on the stock exchange in recent years did so without a single woman on their boards, according to a 2018 study by Equilar, a compensation agency. The same study found that the boards of companies that had held the initial public offering since 2015 had on average disproportionately fewer women than established public companies – 11% compared to 20% in more mature public companies.

Some leading technology companies have become acquainted with at least one female board member this year, although they too have been criticized for gender diversity issues.

When a female engineer publicly claimed that Uber ignored her complaints about sexual harassment, this caused a backlash against the company. The rising company added a second female board member in 2017. Three members of the nine-person board of rival Lyft are women.

Board makeup is just one of the problems WeWork is confronted with when preparing for its IPO. The company mentioned huge losses in its prospectus – a net loss of more than $ 1.6 billion last year on $ 1.8 billion in revenue. However, it is expected to raise approximately $ 3.5 billion in what would be the second largest initial public offering of 2019 (behind Uber). The company could already start a road show for investors next week, people familiar with the case have told Bloomberg.

WeWork also announced on Wednesday that CEO Adam Neumann has returned $ 5.9 million in partner interests that were initially awarded him as compensation for trademarks used in the rebranding of the company.

WeWork & # 39; s management team consists of different women in prominent roles, including Rebekah Neumann, the wife and co-founder of Adam Neumann, who acts as chief brand and impact officer. Jennifer Berrent serves as co-president and chief legal officer.

Several technical giants are likely to add women to their boards by mid-2021, according to the SB 826 of California, signed by the then government last fall. Jerry Brown. The law requires all listed companies in California to have at least one woman on their board by the end of 2019 – and at least two women by the end of 2021. Boards with six or more members must include three women. (WeWork is not subject to this law because it is based in New York.)

Frei, who will join WeWork's board of directors once the offer is complete, was previously a senior vice president at Uber, where she was a member of the management committee that led the company while looking for a new president. According to the WeWork Wednesday application, since March 2019, Frei has provided human resources advisory services to the company.

“It seems that Frances Frei has been the go-to-woman for companies such as Uber and WeWork who wanted to improve their image. It's definitely a start, "Steinhorn said via email.

Steinhorn noted that Frei has expertise in organizational psychology and management, and also advises on progressive companies such as Vault Platform, a start-up that makes it easier for companies to report harassment and bullying to human resources.

But a single addition to the board is not enough to change the corporate culture, Steinhorn said.

"It is becoming increasingly critical that companies add different perspectives to their governance, not just one woman here or one minority there," Steinhorn wrote. "It is sad that WeWork only made this decision afterwards, in response to the news cycle after their IPO."

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