PUTNAM POSTING: Responding to Differing Opinions

Jennifer Maher | March 12, 2021

Jennifer Maher

How does a small business in a small community handle Cancel Culture?

As someone who expresses opinions freely on social and traditional media, I come face-to-face with these concerns as do many community leaders. Here’s a personal story that seems pertinent.

The last week in August 2020, I tested positive for COVID-19 and spent two weeks quarantining and worrying about whether I had unknowingly infected anyone. It was a difficult time. Upon finishing my quarantine period, I went to dine outdoors when a woman I didn’t know approached me and aggressively berated me. She stood over me with no mask screaming and yelling at me “I don’t give a f— if you have children of color, who are you to call my daughter a “white girl”?” She went on to pretend to spit on me and mockingly added “Oh are you afraid to get sick? You will never sell another piece of property in this county, I will ruin you!”

I don’t know this woman or her daughter, and didn’t call her a “white girl.” Her beef had to do with a post about racial equality and inclusion events for the Putnam County Business Council. This woman had commented that “Putnam does not have a race problem.” I simply responded to that with a comment of my own: “Perhaps a person who is not of color nor has children of color is not the best to make this judgment.” It used to be that a conversation on social media stayed there, but in today’s climate this woman took such offense that she will never buy a house from me. An example of “cancellation.”

However, many people within my company have the same struggles, voicing opinions and spinning round and round with people with differing perspectives. We have only a handful of employees, but many independent contractors. We are of all different backgrounds, cultures, religions and political affiliations. It would be unfair for any of my agents to suffer from my voicing of political views that they may not even agree with. Yet, we support all to be able to have their own beliefs and wear them proudly.

I decided then to get into action ONLY when it comes to these situations. I put together a racial and gender inclusivity plan for all the companies and organizations I run plus we are implementing more fair housing training in the real estate offices. My youngest daughter and I are starting a not-for-profit consignment shop to support young women in crisis.

I no longer want to be a part of the “noise culture” streaming and complaining and being offended by people being offended. Cancel culture is a reaction to the need for equality, but the pendulum is swinging and will settle soon into something more reasonable. In the meantime, I think companies adjusting their moral compasses is a good thing.

Business owners and CEOs should consider how to relate to employees and consumers who hold different opinions. Most businesses are just grateful to have good workers of any political persuasion. Consumers may be attracted or repelled by your views—at the extremes some have very negative thoughts towards those with liberal views, or others insist that anyone who voted for Trump is a racist. Courage of conviction is important, but is your place of business the right locale to promote political and social interest opinions? Business leaders also need to be aware of anti-discrimination laws when setting policy. It’s a complicated world out there.

Jennifer Maher
Jennifer Maher is chairwoman, the Putnam County Business Council and currently serves as the president of the Putnam/Westchester Chapter of the New York State Commercial Association of Realtors. She is also the Chief Operating Officer, Managing Broker and Partner of J. Philip Real Estate.