This International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting just nine of the amazing women in The We Company family—both members and employees around the world. This celebration is for them—because they did it, together. And so can we.
The kimchi queen
Lauryn Chun, founder and CEO of kimchi pantry brand Mother-in-Law’s, immigrated with her family to Los Angeles from Korea when she was eight years old. Growing up in what she calls a “bicultural world,” Chun, a member at Brooklyn’s WeWork 195 Montague St, recalls feeling suffocated by the gender norms of her family’s more traditional culture. “For me as a little girl, I was told that my opinions didn’t matter, that I would really be somebody’s wife,” she says. “I remember feeling like I had a lot to say, but I didn’t know that anything I would say would be important.” Mother-in-Law’s, which Chun started in 2009 and is now sold across the U.S. in grocery chains like Whole Foods, Wegmans, and the Fresh Market, became the voice she had been searching for her entire life. Though kimchi isn’t a food that’s meant to be shared with other people (according to Chun’s mother, at least), it became Chun’s catalyst for communicating with the world. “Often when you feel very lost or confused or like an outsider, that’s actually a good sign that you’re destined for greatness.”
The tech boss
As a young girl, LandIt founder and CEO Lisa Skeete Tatum had dreams of becoming the first American woman astronaut. But when Sally Ride took that job in 1983, Tatum pursued plan B: studying chemical engineering, a career that, after receiving her MBA, she parlayed into a partnership at a venture-capital firm. Despite this enormous achievement, that position brought her to the realization that she wanted to do something more with her career. But exactly what “more” was evaded her. “I felt pretty horrible because often as women, we don’t walk around talking about how we don’t have it all figured out, and I thought I was the only one,” says Tatum, a member at New York City’s WeWork 1460 Broadway. That’s when she founded Landit, a female-oriented software company, in 2014. As a “LinkedIn for women,” the platform—which recently raised $13 million in a Series A funding round led by The We Company—provides resources and services that empower women as they move on to a new professional chapter. “As I was on my own journey to figure out what was next for me,” she says, “I realized that we could use technology and humans to help millions around the world do the same.”
The philanthropic maverick
At age 27, Nezha Alaoui was living in Morocco and running an import-export business when she decided to deconstruct her entire life and rebuild it around her two young daughters, then 2 and 3 years old. She came to New York with her family to found Mayshad Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that invests in global programs to ensure that all women have access to education and resources to support their socioeconomic freedom. When Alaoui wanted to forge her own journey, however, she was met with resistance from her family and friends. “Everyone thought I was going through a phase,” says Alaoui, a member at New York’s WeWork 300 Park Ave. “But that’s what happens when you want to create something that’s [not on] the regular path.” Alaoui has created a number of ventures under the Mayshad umbrella since its launch four years ago, including Mayshad Collective, luxury fashion that’s handcrafted in Moroccan workshops.
The fundraising fighter
WeWork senior development operations lead Brooke Gasaway was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in 2015. After two early attacks in which she lost sensation in her feet for a month at a time, her body went into remission. So when she relapsed, her diagnosis came as a shock. “The unknown future was frightening, especially the thought of a potential future attack that was worse than ones I’ve had before,” she says. But Gasaway had an epiphany: “I was given the opportunity to fight for a cause for the rest of my life.” That desire led her to BikeMS, a cycling series in which participants fundraise for MS research and represent those who are mobility challenged and unable to ride themselves. Through BikeMS, Gasaway has cycled in three events, each between 50 and 75 miles, and over the years, her team has raised more than $20,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The empowering data scientist
Earlier in her career, Lore Dirick, now a manager of data-science curriculum at Flatiron School, grew used to fielding comments—though not from her Flatiron School employees—that she doesn’t “look” like a data scientist. “Every time I say I’m a data scientist, people make a face saying, ‘Really?’ as if a data scientist has to look a particular way,” she says. Dirick, who moved to New York from Belgium three years ago, faced sexism from higher-ups in previous work environments. She recalls a former supervisor telling her, “‘We want to hire women, but we also want to hire the best candidates,’” and that “women are not as technical” as men are. But the only real difference between men and women in the workplace, she says, is that men are generally more confident in their capabilities. “We need to reinforce [for] women that, ‘We can absolutely do this!’”
The creative multihyphenate
Shenzen-based multihyphenate Hello HJ has always found enormous pride in her identity as a woman, especially during moments when her gender became a professional obstacle. The content creator and makeup artist (not to mention skater, drummer, and mother to two young boys) applied to college to study film, and the coursework included classes in 3D production and special effects. “I got ‘kind suggestions’ from my teacher and friends saying that girls can never compete with boys” in these areas, says HJ, a member at Shenzhen’s WeWork China Construction Steel Structure Building. Years later, her graduate work received the highest rating at her university. HJ has been fearless as she’s pursued a wide range of professional aspirations, from creating makeup tutorials on YouTube to directing and producing a documentary; she’s even learning how to make a suit from a tailor in Shanghai. “I have many roles in my life, and it’s always changing,” she says. “What remains the same is I’m always doing what I love—always be a student of life and uplift myself to be a better person.”
The moonlighting doula
While Samantha Hillstrom is Meetup’s head of internal communications by day, she moonlights as a birth doula and childbirth educator. Hillstrom pursed the latter roles when she realized how difficult it can be for women to have educated, respectful, and supportive birth experiences, despite how formative childbirth is for women who undergo it. “I’m a witness to the deep, innate power women have inside themselves because at every birth, two people are born—a baby and a mother,” says Hillstrom. “I don’t care what kind of birth women have—a hospital or home birth, an unmedicated or medicated birth, a natural or a cesarean birth. I care that each woman feels respected, supported, educated, and listened to in her birth choices.” This, she says, is how we can change the future of childbirth, one delivery at a time.
The energy expert
Now a partner at Fresh Energy Consulting, an electric markets and renewable energy firm based out of Mexico City’s WeWork Insurgentes Sur 601, Casiopea Ramírez Melgar was told that she couldn’t be an engineer because of her gender. “They told me that, being a woman in a male-dominated industry, it was going to be very hard to succeed,” she says. According to research provided by global nonprofit Catalyst, which builds workplaces that work for women, just 11 percent of women in Mexico study STEM-related fields like engineering, manufacturing, and construction. But Melgar stayed true to her passions and is now considered an expert in renewable energy, energy markets, and climate change throughout Mexico. “You can demonstrate that studying, working hard, and being persistent could lead you to successful positions.”
The higher-education advocate
Before Danielle Hoshia joined WeWork as a senior tax accountant, she grew up in a household where it was far from the norm for women to go to college. Hoshia was born and raised in the U.S., but when her parents—natives of Israel—came of age, most young adults immediately joined the Israeli Defense Forces rather than attended college. It was then common to get married and start a family at a young age. Despite her parents’ upbringing, Hoshia’s mother always championed education and the ability to support oneself without relying on a spouse or romantic partner. “I hope as society continues to develop, this outdated mind-set will continue to fade and that my actions, as well as other women’s around the world, will expose that women are capable of way more than some may believe,” she says. By the time Hoshia was 21 years old, she’d earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting. She’s now the only woman in her immediate family to hold a degree past a high-school diploma.