On the day before her 94th birthday in February 2017, my grandmother, my champion, passed away. As I said at her memorial service, I had been able to feel special because she made me feel special. My grandmother would not question my working hard; rather, she would ask, “Do they”—meaning the leaders wherever I was working at the time—“know how lucky they are to have you?” When my answer was “I am not sure,” she would offer to call to let them know. My grandmother not only accepted me, she encouraged me. As she got to know Carolyn and our relationship, instead of fearing a future that would be different from hers, she kindly and continuously nudged me to commit. After years together, Carolyn and I married in one of the last months of my grandmother’s strong health.
I have been the other in infinite contexts. Like many, I have been the only woman in countless meetings. I have been the Jew in places where they had never met Jews. I have been the closeted lesbian as clients talked about their discomfort with gays. I have been in the midst of getting a divorce as my friends dreamt of lavish weddings. I have been the white mother of an Asian child walking through Chinatown. I have been the public school kid in a world of immense privilege. I have been at cocktail parties with nothing to say. Yet with my grandmother, I always believed I belonged.
In late 2016, WeWork’s co-founder and CEO, Adam Neumann, and Masayoshi Son, the founder and CEO of SoftBank, sketched on a small sheet of paper the contours of a deal for a transformative relationship. The details were to be hammered out in the following months between the teams. By February 2017, we had already spent hours discussing, but agreed to finalize in person in Japan beginning just two days after my grandmother’s funeral. With strong feelings of loss, I boarded an airplane for Japan to lead the most important negotiation of my career. Adam called with strategy, advice, and encouragement, and without an ounce of doubt in my strength.
The team was relentless for four sleepless days and nights, during which we were able to navigate a complex and momentus transaction to final terms. All we needed was our board approval and for both sides to sign the documents. Masa requested a ceremonial signing followed by lunch. In Japan things—and by things, I mean every single event—start on time. It was therefore a bit perplexing to the SoftBank team when I was still talking to our board and running a few minutes late. They were insisting on beginning, but Adam insisted on waiting. When I arrived, we signed. I said to Adam, “You did not need to wait,” and he replied, “We did—you did the deal.” With those few words, Adam reminded me that I belonged. At least at WeWork, I did not need my grandmother to believe.
When I left a law firm to join WeWork, I emailed my colleagues a farewell note, quoting E. E. Cummings: “To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” I felt an urgency to be at a company where I did not need to fight quite so hard to be me. That place is WeWork.
In this month, with intention, we are taking the time to remind everyone how committed to inclusion we are. We do not just celebrate authenticity, we demand it—authenticity is one of our core values. And so I repeat:
If you are a woman who has felt harassed;
If you are a person of color who has felt prejudiced;
If you are gay and have felt ashamed;
If you are an immigrant who has felt rejected;
If you are shy and have felt unnoticed;
If you are not rich and have felt limited;
If you are old and have felt unwanted;
If you struggled in school so felt lost;
If you feel like an outsider looking in;
If you are anyone;
Then, welcome home to you.
If you are dedicated to our mission and you work with excellence in service of our values, this is where you belong.