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WeWork Expanding Its Refugee Hiring Program

Goal To Hire 1,500 Refugees Over Five Years To Include Latin America
July 5, 2018
WeWork is expanding its global efforts to hire more than 1,500 refugees over the next five years as part of the company’s commitment to inclusivity. The New York-based coworking giant has been focused on the United States and United Kingdom but now is expanding that initiative into Latin America too.

WeWork is partnering with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Latin America to focus on hiring Venezuelan refugees beginning with its five offices in Brazil and Colombia, where the need is most acute, the company said.

It’s an expansion of the initiative that the firm, a private communal workspace landlord led by Israeli-American businessman Adam Neumann and valued around $20 billion, began last year in the United States and United Kingdom.

Mo Al-Shawaf, director of partnerships and special projects, public affairs at WeWork in New York, said the initiative is a reflection of the company’s larger philosophy that its offices should be welcoming spaces.

“This WeWork refugee initiative is one aspect of the way we are trying to create this community,” he said. “It’s one aspect to the way in which we are looking at creating a welcoming environment. By creating that welcoming environment, we are increasing the diversity, talent and strength of our teams.”

Actively seeking to hire refugees is just one part of a larger push by the company to reach out to diverse communities of experience and thought. It also has set a goal to hire 1,500 military veterans across the country in the five years.

The goals are a small portion of the larger employee base of the expanding company, which continues to fundraise for future growth. WeWork employs more than 5,000 people worldwide, a spokeswoman said.

Today, WeWork reports it has hired 150 refugee employees from more than 25 countries. They work in 10 cities across the United States and United Kingdom, including Boston, Chicago, London, Miami and New York.

The decision to extend the refugee hiring initiative into Latin America was a logical one for a company that has been making a concerted effort to expand in that region. Company executives announced an aggressive expansion campaign for Latin America last year that would increase its presence across the region exponentially. Today, it has 11 offices from Mexico to Chile.

More than 1.5 million Venezuelans are estimated to have been displaced from their country, rife with economic and political turmoil, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Up to 5,000 people a day were said to be leaving the country earlier this year because of violence, lack of food or services and loss of income.

WeWork's Latin America initiative will include direct hiring, an awareness and education campaign in the company’s buildings, and using the region’s offices and its members to support refugee integration through job fairs, resume workshops, and other programs.

The larger refugee hiring program was first suggested by WeWork employees in New York who had a relationship International Rescue Committee (IRC). The coworking firm launched a pilot program in partnership with IRC that was so successful in finding qualified candidates for the company’s available positions that WeWork executives committed to increase the numbers to 1,500 with an official program in November.

Lauren Gray, senior director of institutional philanthropy and partnerships at IRC, said her firm has been more than happy to help connect its clients with jobs at WeWork.

“It’s always good to have something to strive for and we are excited to strive to help them reach that goal,” Gray said. “It’s really great to have a partner who is so committed to build the evidence of how impactful refugees can be as employees in the private sector.”

WeWork is offering training and classes to refugee hires, most of whom have been hired for entry-level positions in the coworking locations, who are interested in coding and other aspects of business that would allow them to move up in the company.

It also is launching a new partnership in the United Kingdom with British nonprofit Breaking Barriers, the largest employment service for refugees there, to offer training and professional support to refugees in those offices.

The company reports 80 percent retention of its employees who are refugees, which it attributes partly to the trainings and other efforts. Some of those efforts include holding monthly welcome lunches for new and existing refugee employees to connect with each other and other WeWork employees and offering mentorship program to pair the new hires who want to train in technology with other employees who can aid their growth.

The firm is also encouraging its 20,000 member companies to consider hire refugees themselves.

In all of its regions, the campaign to hire more refugees is meant to ensure they are integrated into the company as seamlessly and fully as every other employee, Al-Shawaf said.

He added that he's already witnessing the way the program is working in the community.

He said a few weeks ago he was in a New York WeWork community on a Friday evening. A group of seven employees, some of whom were refugees, all took a break together when the sun went down. When he went to check on what they were doing, he realized that a few of them had been celebrating Ramadan, the Muslim holiday that requires observers to fast during daylight hours, and the entire group had decided to wait until after the sunset to eat together.

“There are so many tangible benefits to bringing on diverse individuals and talent into our teams: the way they make our team stronger and the ability for us to understand different perspectives,” he said.

Jacquelyn Ryan, Los Angeles Market Reporter  CoStar Group   
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