Adam Neumann, the embattled CEO of WeWork, stepped down on Tuesday. He had to. In the run-up to its now paused IPO, WeWork has seen its valuation drop by more than $30 billion. It’s been impossible to escape the endless stories, winding reckonings, and wild predictions around the future of America’s most valuable start-up.
But instead of spending time analyzing WeWork’s downward spiral, we should instead question how we can disrupt a system that continues to throw money into the hands of men who operate with recklessness.
Article after article has been published detailing the WeWork founder’s habit of mixing tequila and work, his endless ambition to become "president of the world," and his creative self-enrichment through stunts like personally trademarking the parent company name only to lease it to WeWork for millions and leasing his own real estate to the company.
We’ve seen this very basic hero’s arc play out before. Travis Kalanick, former CEO of Uber, was fêted in financial circles for his "brash fashion" despite the fact that his first start-up ended in bankruptcy following a $250 billion lawsuit for copyright infringement. He wasn’t punished for this; instead, he went on to raise millions to grow Uber (where his track record isn’t exactly clean either).
Similarly, the system rewarded Mr. Neumann for his behavior every step of the way. According to Mr. Neumann’s co-founder, Miguel McKelvey, before they had even signed onto a single lease or signed up a single member, the two had garnered a $45 million valuation.
I have an idea and it’s not exactly revolutionary: look to women. We’re good for business. A common thread in these stories is that women are absent not just from the table — we’re often absent from the building.
Uber did not have a single woman on the board or in a C-Suite role prior to Kalanick’s ouster after revelations of over 200 cases of sexual harassment. (This might not be a surprise given Mr. Kalanick’s personal thoughts on women. He once bragged to GQ that Uber increased his ability to "hook up," telling the magazine he christened his good fortune as "Boob-er.")
And, as you might expect, until just last week, WeWork had not a single woman on its board either. The company also didn’t bother to hide its gender bias given that, according to public information, the company paid men significantly more than women in terms of stock-based compensation.
Uber and WeWork are not outliers. They are the norm. More than 70 percent of startups don’t have a woman on their boards.
It seems outrageous that having gender-diverse leadership is somehow an innovation in 2019, but it is. We are not reluctant to give male CEOs myriad of chances to prove themselves, yet we often do not so much as invite women into the room.
We absolutely must welcome more women into the institutions that make America’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The business case is simple. First, data tells us that having women at the C-Suite level significantly increases net margins. Second, female founders outperform their male counterparts. A recent study revealed that, for every dollar of investment secured, women-led startups generated 78 cents in revenue, whereas those led by men generated only 31 cents. Finally, we know that venture capital funds with women partners are better able to advise or evaluate female-led startups.
Look, we can be angry about the state of play, or we can fix it. This isn’t rocket science (though women are great at that, too). I believe women can — and should — lead the way. I’m also an entrepreneur. You might not have heard my name, and I might not lead with as much bravado as Mr. Neumann as it’s not my style (and I’m not sure it’d be welcome coming from a woman.) And while I am not brash, I think it’s past time to sound the siren that these companies are ignoring the brilliance of half of the world’s population.
In 2017, I launched my own start-up, and in just two years, we’ve raised over $20 million in investor funding, created almost 100 jobs, generated millions in revenue, and shown stunning year-over-year growth. I’ve done it while raising four young daughters, with a diverse board and a female C-Suite, and without any scandal to speak of.
If you watch women, if you let us into the building and welcome us when we pull a chair up to the table, we will show you how we work.
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