For years, WeWork’s selling point has been community. But until now, a major segment of that community has not been represented on its board: women. That is finally set to change after the company goes public.
WeWork’s parent company said in a filing Wednesday that Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei will join the board upon completion of its public offering. The We Company filed paperwork last month to go public, which quickly set off a wave of press coverage about the absence of any women on its board.
Within one year of its public offering, The We Company also plans to add an additional board member with the goal of increasing “the board’s gender and ethnic diversity,” according to the filing.
Frei is a technology and operations management professor who is known for joining Uber with the goal of improving its internal culture during a period of extraordinary turmoil at the company. She served as senior vice president of leadership and strategy at Uber for less than a year before leaving in February 2018 to return to her work at Harvard.
“I was super attracted to going to an organization that was metaphorically, and perhaps quite literally, on fire,” Frei said about Uber in a 2018 TED talk shortly after leaving the company. “I had read everything that was written in the newspaper and that was precisely what drew me to the organization. This was an organization that had lost trust with every constituent that mattered.”
There have been concerning headlines about WeWork, too.
The company has been hit with several lawsuits over the past year from former employees, including one former employee who claimed she was sexually assaulted at two company events and ultimately fired in retaliation for reporting the incidents. The company disputed this, saying she was fired for performance reasons.
Last week, tech news site The Information reported that The We Company has struggled to retain leaders and managers in its human resources department in the past year. Frei has been providing human resources consulting for The We Company since March 2019, the company confirmed in the filing Wednesday.
Corporate governance experts have also raised concerns about CEO Adam Neumann’s unchecked power at the company. For example, the company confirmed in its IPO prospectus that it has “entered into several transactions” with Neumann, “including leases with landlord entities in which Adam has or had a significant ownership interest,” which it said could “present potential for conflicts of interest.”
In addition to announcing Frei’s appointment on Wednesday, The We Company said that Neumann has repaid the company $5.9 million in stock that his holding company, WE Holdings LLC, received after selling off its trademark of the word “We” to The We Company. In January, WeWork rebranded itself as The We Company to serve as an umbrella company to its various businesses. In addition to WeWork, these businesses include coliving apartments known as WeLive and a school, WeGrow.
The We Company reported a staggering $1.9 billion loss last year, according to its IPO prospectus, an unprecedented amount for a company about to go public. The runner-up: Uber, which lost $1.8 billion in 2018.
WeWork offers coworking spaces in more than 100 cities around the world and ranks as one of the most valuable privately-held companies in the United States. Investors have poured billions of dollars into the company whose mission statement is to “elevate the world’s consciousness.”