Not long after our now teenage daughter Hana was born, when our son Noah had just learned to ride a bike, Eileen began campaigning for grandkids. Hanna made ‘two and through’ as far as our life-plan was concerned; children of their own would be part of their plans someday, we hoped.
Each summer, we’d travel back to the east coast where both sets of grandparents lived. We’d watch, wistfully, as each of our parents enjoyed the fruits of our collective labor. This was, after all, what life was about—this was the American Dream.
Our kids grew up with every freedom imaginable—growing up in a safe city, attending public school with the same friends since kindergarten, a sweet car for their sweet 16—the whole thing. Myself an immigrant, the privileges of life in America were never lost on me. The ease of life in America. The freedom to be you and me.
In high school, our kids learned about Brown vs. Board of Eduction, and Roe vs. Wade—discussions over the dinner table further cemented these Supreme Court rulings in our household. Our kids understood the importance of the Women’s Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the power of our vote. Our country was not perfect, but all of this was progress.
Fast forward to the recent ruling by the Supreme Court. I owe it to the women in my life—and the women in my industry—to make it known that I see you. I know what happened. Frankly, I think women are tired of men telling them what the hell to do and how to feel. They’re tired.
The hospitality industry, as it pertains to woman, hasn’t been very hospitable after all. When countless stories quickly added up to the Me Too movement, regarding everyone from Celebrity Chefs to CEOs and their treatment of women in the workplace, the thing I found most jarring was that no one was really surprised.
In a lot of ways, especially in the early years of women in hospitality, women have been seen as lesser than men. Paid less. Positioned less. Promoted less. Women aren’t trusted with the money, let alone the decision making. Is it any wonder that so few hotel owners are women? The hard truth hits like a cold crudo.
And yet, in a recent Forbes article, How Women Are Changing The Hotel Industry, Emily Goldfischer, the founder of Hertelier, cites a 2020 study by McKinsey. Companies with more than 30% women on their executive teams are more likely to outperform those with 10-30% executive women, and those companies are more likely to outperform those with fewer still.
My war cry to my fellow hoteliers is this: look around at who you’ve surrounded yourself with, and think about how you got here. Who have you invited to your table? And to whom might you lend a hand?
I moved to the US from Syria when I was a teenager, my parents followed soon after. We come from a religion-dominant culture. Muslims and the Middle East aren’t so much known for their high placement of women in society. No matter how hospitable we made our home, no matter how much food we set on the table for guests and total strangers, outside of our door, religion still reigned. Women didn’t have the same rights, privileges, or respect as men. Lady Liberty welcomed us to America, a beacon of life, liberty, and happiness.
Today, I’m a hotelier and a company owner, in the home of the free and the land of the brave. But if you read the fine print—terms and conditions apply.
This can’t be the USA Miley is partying in. This isn’t the adulthood we’d dreamed of for Hana and Noah. Somehow an ancient text from one religion is being weaponized against all women, regardless of freedom to practice our chosen religion, many of which support a women’s bodily autonomy and right to choose.
The women I’ve been fortunate enough to hire on my teams are far smarter than me. That’s the not-so-secret key to leadership: surround yourself with those that are smarter than you. Check. Most of mine happen to be women, and that sits well with me.
A basic right has been taken away from women, by a court largely made up of men, and that doesn’t sit well with me.
I am grateful for the women both in my life and in my work, who make their own decisions, turn their own tables, and check me when I need checking. Somehow the men around me haven’t figured out how to do that…another reason why women are superior.
This business wouldn’t be what it is without women who broke barriers:
Hemma Varma at Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, spearheading the cause of social impact and global responsibility in hospitality after spending 25 years at Marriott.
Christina Tosi, baking her way past the shadow of David Chang to a multi-million dollar empire largely built around cereal milk. Milk Bar, slurp it up.
Amy Trask, first CEO of an NFL team, working her way from an intern in the law department of the Raiders to CEO, now that’s a climb.
Liz Lambert, founder of Bunkhouse Hotels, the unofficial template from which all motel-turned-boutique hotels have been drawn since 2000.
I could go on. For hours. Maybe I should. But the real question is—how do we break down barriers? How do we stop being men in a room making decisions that affect women?
We can’t forget where we came from and the people who fought like hell to give us the freedoms we enjoy. Now it’s our turn. I see you. I don’t agree. This is bullshit. And I’m going to fight like hell alongside you. One cold crudo of truth at a time.