Thursday, May 28, 2009

Supporting Prop 8: Poor Business Practice?

This week the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that was decided by voters last November in the California general election. Not only does this sadly remind me that not all Californians share equal rights, but it also creates an interesting discussion surrounding workplace diversity.

The Yes on Prop 8 Campaign (favoring a ban on same-sex marriages) raised more than $38 million in campaign contributions, and of that, more than $7.2 million was donated by businesses (which I defined as a donation made by an organization that employs workers) from a variety of professions including lawyers, dentists, construction companies, even a preschool.

The fact that almost one-fifth of the campaign was funded by business dollars made me wonder:
when an employer publicly asserts his or her position on a certain issue – especially a fiercely debated one with religious underpinnings such as Prop 8 – is that considered workplace discrimination? Or just poor business practices?

Contributions to political campaigns in California are very public statements about one’s position on an issue. Due to donor disclosure laws enacted by California’s Political Reform Act of 1974, all contributions of more than $100 are made public - and information including the donor’s name, address, company and industry are required to process the payment. So for a business to donate money to a political campaign, its owners must feel strongly about the issue – as they must be willing to deal with the ramifications that could come with it.

Many businesses including the Manchester Grand Hyatt, the famous El Coyote restaurant in Hollywood and Urban Outfitters, learned this the hard way by being placed on widely-circulated boycott lists and experiencing deteriorating public images – with the hotelier hiring a crisis management consultant and the restaurant manager holding a press conference.

By contrast, companies who publicly opposed Proposition 8 – including public utilities company PG&E, which donated $250,000, and Apple, which donated $100,000 (and was among the first California companies to offer equal rights and benefits employees’ same-sex partners) - are seen as industry leaders that value equality for their employees and customers. Both companies noted that their donations were made as part of their overall commitment to diversity, which they see as essential to workplace morale, innovative ideas and a strong bottom-line.

Publicly supporting a law that limits the rights of a specific group does not qualify as job discrimination – but when workplace tolerance is violated, not only do employees suffer, but in the long run, so does the company.

In essence, it’s bad for business.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Real Estate: A Measure of Success?

I rent. And I like it.

When my AC needs a new HEPA filter, or when the neighbor's sprinkler repeatedly ruins my car wash – both of which happened this week – I don’t have to deal with it. I make a call and it’s someone else’s job to fix it. Not to mention that at any moment, I can move!

However, over the years, I’ve had a nagging sense that because I own a business, I should own a home. My two business partners own their residences and my 22-year old employee just made an offer on a condo. And many of my entrepreneur friends and corporate executive-types own homes – and we all live in Los Angeles, one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country.

Owning real estate exudes fiscal responsibility, maturity and realizing the American Dream. Really a measure of how well you’ve made it in the world. Does this mean I have not?

And is this concept still true? In this time of decreased home values, massive foreclosures and borrowing more than we can afford, is owning real estate as sexy as it used to be?

Most people I know are still on the ownership bandwagon:

“Real estate is still the best investment you will ever make.”

“Renting is like throwing money down the drain.”

“I’m in Escrow!” (heard three times this week)


But last weekend I spoke to someone who's on my side of the fence. A successful set decorator for feature films, she has owned a home for a few years. She bought in an “up and coming” area – which fortunately came up as hip – and isn’t upside down in her mortgage or in over her head. But finances aside, she brought up a point that hit home for me; one that went beyond status and into obligation.

“As a single woman, owning a home is that much more of a commitment. You only have your self and your income or savings to rely on. If the plumbing goes out, or the tree falls over, I am the only one around to take care of it. And this additional responsibility can be overwhelming at times.”

She knew her house was a great investment and she truly loved her home, but she often wondered if owning continued to be the right choice for her. And it made me feel so much better: Who wants to be responsible when the pipes need to be snaked, the weeds need to be plucked and the termites take up residence? Certainly not me. At this point, I feel I have enough on my plate in remembering to leave a key for the housekeeper, water my plants and check the mail (note to self: remember to do these things asap).

It has taken me three years of contemplation, an economic downturn and one late night chat with a friend to realize that owning real estate is not the powerful gauge of achievement that I once obsessed over. For some it is a smart choice, and for others not so much. So I will continue to own my business and rent my home.

And hopefully, one day soon, the truly important things in life – like being kind, honest, and gracious with your time and talents - will be the first things I/we think of when contemplating the measure of success.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Call Me Crazy: I Love Business Travel

I love to travel for business. I enjoy visiting new places, returning to favorite cities like New York and DC, and meeting with clients I don't see very often. But I think what I like most about business travel is the opportunity to experience quality alone time.

This love affair began in my early 20’s with my first out-of-state event. The gala was in Washington, DC and required three LA staff to oversee the project. My orders were to meet my two co-workers at the venue at noon on the day of the event - and how I got there, where I stayed and what I did with the rest of my time was up to me. These two particular co-workers (now my business partners) had very particular travel preferences – certain habits, airlines, hotels, friends to visit – and they figured that I too had my own.

I didn’t. So for my first business trip, I was left to fend for myself. At the time it seemed a little scary, but now I realize what a gift I'd been given.

My travel planning wasn't stellar – I chose the worst airport and airline, stayed in the wrong part of town and didn't understand the metro - but I had a fantastic time in the city by myself. I flew alone, ate alone, and made my own schedule. Besides the actual "work" part of the trip, no one knew me, cared what I was doing, or was expecting anything from me. I could do whatever I wanted - and it was liberating.

This week I traveled back to DC to oversee that same annual gala – and celebrate the sixth anniversary of my first business trip. Years later, still fending for myself, I continue to love the freedom that comes with traveling alone – and I eventually created my own travel preferences. My favorite rule: don’t make any specific plans. I leave my schedule open so I can partake in whatever suits my mood: stay in and order room service and a movie, go to a concert, visit a museum, indulge in Restaurant Week.

My sixth annual trip turned out to be one of my favorites. Nothing extraordinary happened – I worked a flawless event, ate a great meal, had an intriguing conversation with an international architect and met an up-and-coming DC chef - but it reminded me of how much I love to travel by myself and how thankful I am that my job – and my clients – afford me this opportunity.

If you haven’t experienced traveling solo – for business or for pleasure – I expressly recommend it. It’s kind of like living by yourself: everyone should try it at least once in their lives to really understand who you are when alone.

My recent trip also leads me to an update of an earlier post: Miles, Points & Perks. After an amazing stay at the Hotel Palomar (a Kimpton property) and hassle-free, enjoyable flights on Alaska Airlines, I’ve decided to end my six year relationship with American Airlines and Hilton Hotels.

The benefits of their “Loyalty Programs” just no longer perk me up. I've decided that I am willing to give up a free flight, a free hotel night and occasional upgrades for better service, free wi-fi, L’occitane products, hipper digs and a concierge who helped me enjoy my stay.

Because traveling solo is an adventure right? And staying with the same airlines and hotels has not only become disappointing, but also far too predictable.

Happy Travels!

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