The following is an excerpt from the introduction to the new Second Edition of The B Corp Handbook: How You Can Use Business as a Force for Good (Berrett-Koehler Publishers). Get your copy of the book here and/or sign up for our online launch event on May 30, 2019.
I first found out about B Corporations while baking cookies. The flour I was using—King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour—had a Certified B Corporation logo on the side of the package. “That seems silly,” I thought. “Wouldn’t you want to be an A Corporation and not a B Corporation?” The carton of eggs I was using was rated AA. I was obviously missing something.
An online search revealed that the B logo was not a scarlet letter for second-rate baking product. B Corporations, I found, were part of a dynamic and exciting movement to redefine success in business by using their innovation, speed, and capacity for growth not only to make money but also to help alleviate poverty, build stronger communities, restore the environment, and inspire us to work for a higher purpose. The B stands for “benefit,” and as a community, B Corporations want to build a new sector of the economy in which the race to the top isn’t to be the best in the world but to be the best for the world.
Since my initial discovery, I have watched the B Corp movement grow to thousands of businesses in over sixty countries. In addition to King Arthur Flour, well-known B Corps include Ben & Jerry’s, Danone North America, Eileen Fisher, Kickstarter, Laureate Education, Method, Natura, Patagonia, Seventh Generation, and Triodos Bank. Thought leaders such as former President Bill Clinton and Robert Shiller, the winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, have taken an interest in the B Corp movement. Inc. magazine has called B Corp certification “the highest standard for socially responsible businesses,” and the New York Times has said, “B Corp provides what is lacking elsewhere: proof.”
You ought to look at these B Corporations. . . . We’ve got to get back to a stakeholder society that doesn’t give one class of stakeholders an inordinate advantage over others.
Bill Clinton, former president of the United States
I think B Corporations will make more profits than other types of companies.
Robert Shiller, Nobel laureate in economics
I originally decided to write this book because many business owners and CEOs are intrigued and excited by the idea of B Corporations but there was not a single step-by-step resource that could explain the what, why, and how of the B Corp movement. There was a need for a book that was practical and hands-on, a comprehensive guide for those interested in using business as a force for good.
The main focus of this book is the Certified B Corporation, not the legal entity known as a benefit corporation. This book focuses on the Certified B Corporation because this certification (and the B Impact Assessment, the free online tool for improving a company’s social and environmental performance) is available to any business in the world, regardless of existing legal structure, size, or location of incorporation. There is a separate book written on benefit corporations, Benefit Corporation Law and Governance: Pursuing Profit with Purpose, by Frederick Alexander. I highly recommend it for those of you who want to go deep on the topic. For some of the basics, you may review appendix A of this book for an overview of benefit corporations, answers to some frequently asked questions about the legal structure, and a look at the similarities and differences between Certified B Corporations and benefit corporations.
This second edition of The B Corp Handbook, which I have coauthored with Dr. Tiffany Jana of TMI Consulting, updates the core content from the first edition of the book while adding Dr. Jana’s expertise on diversity, equity, and building a more inclusive economy.
A lot has changed for me since 2014, when the first edition of this book was written. I now have two kids, a girl and a boy. Any parent reading this knows that something changes when you have kids. For me, having a girl made me viscerally aware of the many systemic barriers she will face in this world. It made me feel sad, angry, and helpless. Her birth caused the first in a series of deeper revelations. For example, many ideas that I was intellectually supportive of—like women’s empowerment—suddenly became personal and real.
In addition to being a new father, this shift inside of me was accelerated by watching more cell phone videos of the police shooting unarmed black men, by Indigenous-led protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, by the power of the #MeToo movement, or by immigrant children being forcibly separated from their parents just for seeking a better life in the United States. The confluence of these events reordered my internal list of personal and professional priorities. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) shifted from one of many issues I care about to my top priority.
This book is a lot different than the first edition. Some readers may have mixed reactions to the addition of so much content around DEI. You might think, “I wanted to read a straightforward book about B Corps, and you are blindsiding me with all of this DEI content. It feels like you are forcing this topic on readers when it is just one of many priorities. If I wanted to read a book about diversity, I would get one.”
If you find yourself thinking along these lines, I understand the reaction. I may have thought the exact same thing before 2014. What I have learned over the past few years, however, is that there is no such thing as a conversation about DEI and a separate conversation about business as a force for good. They are the same conversation. Siloing DEI into something separate is one of the main barriers facing our movement to create a more equitable society.
Another thing I have learned is that, as a cisgender (that is, my gender identity matches the sex I was assigned at birth), nondisabled, straight, white male who is a U.S. citizen, it is the privilege of people like me to not think about DEI. We can mostly ignore it, or expect people of color (or other historically marginalized groups) to figure it out, or we can indefinitely kick the conversation down the road without any apparent negative repercussions. It should not be the burden of people of color, women, or other marginalized groups to educate folks with privilege about institutional racism, institutional sexism, and other forms of systemic bias.
One reason privileged people like me avoid this topic is that many of us feel like we don’t know where to start—even if we are interested in addressing systemic bias. Another reason is that conversations about DEI, especially about race, often bring up feelings of shame, guilt, hopelessness, anger, and sadness. I have taken solace in the advice I have received from racial justice educators and social justice activists over the last few years. Their comments have generally followed along the lines of the following:
“Yes, you are a privileged white male. However, you did not invent racism, sexism, and other forms institutional oppression. You inherited them.”
“It is OK to feel awkward and uncomfortable when talking about DEI. Try to stay engaged. If you choose to walk away from an uncomfortable conversation, you are exercising your privilege, because people of color, women, and others cannot walk away from their identity.”
“Do not doubt that you will make mistakes and feel embarrassed. Perfection is not the goal. Stay engaged long enough to give yourself a chance to recover from your mistakes, make a breakthrough in understanding, and strengthen your ability to have difficult conversations.”
If it feels awkward and uncomfortable to talk about DEI, it can be absolutely terrifying to discuss white supremacy. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I can hear you saying. “Are you seriously bringing up white supremacy in the introduction to a book about B Corps? I am about to throw this book out the window.” If you are having this reaction, I get it. Hang in there. I promise this will tie back to B Corps.
As a white person (or for any person, for that matter), the term “white supremacy” is often jarring and cringeworthy. It can conjure up images of neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members marching down the street with torches—leading to feelings such as shame, defensiveness, or anger. However, I am not proposing that we discuss the bigotry of individuals who identify as white supremacists. I want to examine the system or organizing principle of white supremacy, in which white domination of society is seen as the natural order of things. For white people like me, it is important to discuss this system, because it goes largely unnoticed and operates by default in the background of our daily lives.
“Again,” you may be wondering, “how is this possibly related to B Corps? I don’t see the connection.” It is related because our economy is based upon—and tightly intertwined with—the legacy of white supremacy. If we aren’t directly learning about, disrupting, and dismantling this framework, how can B Corps be truly successful in creating a more inclusive economy?
After learning more about this system from leaders in the antiracism movement, I believe it is important to specifically name white supremacy in the context of the B Corp movement because white supremacy is the system that perpetuates many of the problems our diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are attempting to solve. For instance, white supremacy implies a number of unspoken norms. It describes a social order in which one kind of person is superior: a white, Anglo, cisgender, Christian, heterosexual, wealth-oriented, nondisabled male. People who do not fit neatly into each of these categories and who want access to power and privilege are often forced to Anglicize their names, hide their sexuality, play up their wealth, act “male,” and hide their religion.
The culture of white supremacy also elevates a certain attitude and approach to life. Many of the values I learned and internalized growing up as a young white male included things like, “Work hard. Keep your nose to the grindstone. Be productive. If you see a problem, fix it. You can do anything you want if you just try hard enough. Everyone gets a fair shot. You are responsible for your own success in life. Suck it up and don’t complain. Always be polite. Avoid conflict. Don’t rock the boat. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” For years, I assumed that the values imparted to me by my family were somehow unique to us. It shocked me to realize that these messages are part of a cultural lineage and belief system that is handed down by white families to their children over many generations.
These internalized values play out in subtle and pernicious ways. For example, if a white child sees a poor black child at school, they might think, “Well, maybe their family just needs to work harder,” or “We should help those poor people, who obviously haven’t figured it out and need the assistance of people like me.” Based on the narrative that everyone gets a fair chance and that working hard is the answer, the white child may assume that the black child’s family is solely responsible for the circumstances in which they find themselves. In addition, white children are taught to avoid conflict. “I’m confused why this black child is poor,” the white child might think, “but I’m not going to ask about it. It seems like a sensitive topic. It must just be the way things are.”
Nothing in the previous example was consciously or purposefully racist on the part of the white child. If anything, the white child thought they could be helpful. The cause of the damaging conclusions is the unexamined belief system—the default order of things—that has been passed down to white people and that perpetuates institutional bias.
Until recently, I had always believed that the answer to many social and environmental problems was to “help” historically marginalized groups bring themselves up to par with white communities. I had never considered that challenging and unraveling the norms, assumptions, and culture of white supremacy itself could be part of the solution. Reframing this problem is difficult and uncomfortable because it shifts the focus to me. That is why I believe it is incumbent upon us in the B Corp community to more explicitly name white supremacy and examine its negative effects. Antiracist leaders have helped me understand that only by naming it, disrupting it, and dismantling it can we successfully create an economy that works for the benefit of all life.
Two things became readily apparent in deciding to incorporate DEI into this book. First, it was clear that, as a white male with all of the socially accepted and normative characteristics I have just mentioned, I was not the right person to lead a discussion about inclusion. I needed the help of an expert. Second, I strongly felt that DEI should not be a case study, featured section, or stand-alone chapter. It should touch every aspect of the book. Dr. Tiffany Jana was the first person that came to mind.
I have known and admired Dr. Jana for many years. They are a B Corp CEO, an expert on DEI, a doctor of management and organizational leadership, and an international public speaker. They are the coauthor of Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships Across Differences (Berrett-Koehler 2016) and Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion (Berrett-Koehler 2018). I am incredibly lucky to have Dr. Jana as a coauthor of this book. In fact, I’ll stop gushing about Dr. Jana and let them take it from here.
Dr. Tiffany Jana
I was thrilled to be invited to coauthor the second edition of this book, because it reinforced something I already knew. Namely, that the B Corp community, by and large, seeks greater diversity among and within its businesses. Ryan’s invitation registered as a fantastic opportunity to share what I have learned about expanding inclusion, designing equitable systems, and increasing diversity within communities. DEI is not just a vocation for me. It’s a deeply personal calling.
There is an unexpected backstory to this book that reflects the depth of change I have witnessed on a personal, professional, and societal level. When Ryan first reached out to me, in the fall of 2017, I identified as a woman and was married to a white antiracist. Neither of those is true anymore. In addition to no longer being with my former partner and to subsequently deepening my connection to communities of color, I also now identify as a gender-nonconforming Christian. This means, among other things, that my pronouns have shifted from she/her/hers to they/them/theirs. As a Christian, the singular/plural God construct of the Holy Trinity is accessible to me. The idea that God, as “they,” is part of me is as important as when I use the gender-nonconforming aspect of “they.” It’s a constant reminder that I am not just one thing.
The level of urgency I feel about DEI has evolved as well. When Ryan and I first spoke about the book, I was still grounded in my personal and professional experience as a global citizen. I was happy to moderate my voice in order to appeal to people as gently as possible. Being married to a cisgendered, white male helped me embody racial reconciliation on a daily basis. It also helped me to whitewash my life and enjoy a level of privilege that stands in stark contrast to the experiences of many of my brothers and sisters of color. My credit score went through the roof. I wasn’t pulled over once during the seven years we were married—if he was driving. I was taken more seriously when I brought him to business functions, whether he contributed or not. While this approach has served me well (benefiting from pro-white bias and being white adjacent), I am not sure it still does, going forward.
Now is not the time for me to get comfortable, tread lightly, and sidestep the tough conversations. Racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and the legacy of white supremacy, slavery, and institutionalized bias are real and continue to wreak havoc in our communities. The blacker, poorer, and more marginalized you are, the worse the disparities. It is time that we, as citizens of the world and especially as B Corps, get real about what’s going on.
In the time that it took to complete this book, there was an enormous shift across the world. Nationalism (especially white nationalism) has increased in the United States, Europe, and other countries and regions. Civil rights, and the progress toward equality many of us believed we had made, have been eroded. Classism is costing the poor (of all races and ethnicities) even more freedom and opportunity. Puerto Rico remains isolated in devastation after a natural disaster that likely would have been addressed more quickly and effectively had its population been more white and affluent. An increasing number of unarmed African American men, women, and children are being harassed, abused, and killed on video, with seemingly no justice for their abusers and killers. People are being sentenced for unreasonable lengths of time for nonviolent crimes and subsequently are subjected to inhumane conditions that most people are oblivious to or do not care about.
You may wonder what any of this has to do with B Corps. Well, everything. The B Corp community has placed a flag in the ground stating that we are here in service of the earth and her inhabitants. If we fail to leverage our collective economic power to address what we can clearly see are gross injustices––economic, environmental, social, medical, educational, and more––then are we really walking the walk?
Remember, DEI is not just an American thing. DEI is a global phenomenon. The difference is the type of diversity and who has been or is being marginalized. There is always a subset of people who are treated less than fairly. Humans are prone to the marginalization of others based on fear of differences that they don’t accept or understand. In the United States, for instance, racial divides are the source of much conflict. Despite the fact that ethnic minorities in the United States are called “people of color,” we are in fact “people of the global majority.”
Diversity is always relative. In other countries, race may not be the primary focus for discrimination. People around the world are marginalized for their religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, citizenship status, or low income.
I understand that conversations about DEI can make some people really uncomfortable. It can be frightening to discuss this topic if you feel ill-equipped to navigate the perilous waters of conversations about equity. Rather than avoiding this topic indefinitely, my advice is to be gentle on yourself and others. Everyone has to learn how to navigate hard conversations. As a DEI practitioner, I still have to learn, read, study, process, try, fail, blunder, and recover along my journey. I have used dated terminology that people find insulting. I have inadvertently privileged my temporarily able-bodied status. I’ve supported the gender binary construct without thinking. All of this was just in the last year. There are no perfect role models for DEI. We all mess up sometimes. It’s usually just a matter of who is around when it happens and whether you are brave enough to own it and hold yourself accountable.
The important thing is to acknowledge your error, apologize whenever possible, and be more present and intentional next time. It takes practice, but cultural fluency is worth it. It is better to keep trying and to mess up than to be blindsided without any skills to employ. Take responsibility for your own understanding so your words and actions can reflect the thoughtful consideration of your fellow humans. With that in mind, let’s briefly define what diversity, equity, and inclusion actually mean, since they are referenced frequently in this book.
Diversity describes the differences among people, both demographic (race, ethnicity, gender, religion, class, age, and so on) and experiential (how people think, work, communicate, and live).
Equity is often confused with equality. The difference between the two is important. Equality means everyone gets treated the same. Equity, on the other hand, means everyone gets treated according to their individual need or circumstances.
Inclusion is the space we make for people to participate in systems. We can have all types of diversity, but if we fail to invite people to the table and empower them, they remain marginal. Inclusion means inviting people to join, participate fully, and help shape systems and make decisions. If you use people as tools to get work done but don’t engage their minds and hearts, that is not inclusion. If people’s opinions are not sought out, taken seriously, or acted upon, that is not inclusion. Inclusion is sharing the work, the opportunities, the glory, the fun, and the failure. Inclusion is rooted in welcoming people as they are and helping them grow and participate fully.
Our businesses are powerful tools that we can use to help build the world in which we want to live. This will require listening to those who are disenfranchised by systemic forms of oppression. People who have been exploited by our current economic system exist across the political spectrum, in rural and urban communities, around the world. In order to restore trust in business, the business community needs to respond to those people’s legitimate desire for jobs with dignity. The business community also needs to make the case that economic justice for all is inextricably tied to, and dependent on, social and environmental justice.
You may be wondering what an inclusive economy actually looks like. An inclusive economy looks like a living wage for all workers. An inclusive economy looks like a boardroom and management team with the same demographics as the company’s factory floor. An inclusive economy looks like ownership opportunities for all employees—especially historically marginalized groups like women and people of color. An inclusive economy holds institutions accountable for reinforcing racist, sexist, and other inequitable structures.
Systemic bias should not be nurtured or defended. Companies that thrive on the exploitation of people should not thrive. We can create an economy where inclusion and accountability are rewarded. The realization of these ideas should not depend solely on government regulation. They can be achieved through the leadership and stewardship of the business community, if we choose to take action.
As you will learn later in this book, one way for you to take the next step in building a more equitable economy is to try benchmarking your company’s performance with the B Impact Assessment. The B Impact Assessment measures inclusive values that can help you quantify and shape the way you treat employees, your suppliers, local community members, and more. Completing the assessment will provide you with suggestions for creating substantive and impactful opportunities for individuals from chronically marginalized backgrounds. It also provides guardrails against some of the more tokenistic and superficial gestures that will fail to yield meaningful results.
The B Impact Assessment credits your business for supplier diversity, for creating equitable compensation structures, for investing in diverse recruitment, and for creating meaningful professional development opportunities. In addition, you are asked whether you pay a living wage, to measure pay differentials across your organization, and whether you provide scheduling flexibility for workers. Another consideration is the demographic composition of your staff, leadership team, and board of directors. If you do not have a board of directors, you will be invited to consider diversity, equity, and inclusion when the time comes to create one.
This is the magic of the B Corp journey. Your company may not be as equitable as you want it to be, but the B Corp movement provides the framework, tools, and community of support you need to continue to improve.
As you read this book, look for “Dr. Jana’s Tips,” where I describe practical solutions, metrics, suggestions, and best practices for the creation of a more inclusive economy. Whether you are part of an established B Corp or are still considering joining the movement, The B Corp Handbook will help you design a business that places diversity, equity, and inclusion in the foreground.
Part 1 of this book provides a brief history of the B Corp movement, a description of what B Corps are and why they are important, an overview of an emergent concept called the B Economy, a discussion about what investors think about B Corps, and an analysis of whether B Corp works for multinationals and publicly traded companies.
Part 2 goes into detail about the different benefits of becoming a Certified B Corporation—including joining a global community of leaders, attracting and retaining talent, benchmarking and improving performance, and more.
The third part describes the B Impact Assessment, a comprehensive tool that helps turn the desire to use business as a force for good—including the desire to integrate DEI more deeply into your company—into a series of concrete, measurable, and actionable steps. This section is a great resource, whether you want to become a Certified B Corporation or you are unsure about becoming a B Corp but want a free tool to assess, compare, and implement improvements that are good for workers, the environment, communities, governance, and customers. Whichever path you choose, this section will give you the insight, resources, and best practices necessary to make the most of your efforts.
For those who are fired up and ready to go, the Quick Start Guide in the fourth part outlines a six-step action plan to help you move forward on your journey as efficiently and inclusively as possible. Like the section on the B Impact Assessment, the Quick Start Guide is designed to be useful both for businesses that want to become a Certified B Corporation and for companies that simply want to improve their social and environmental performance. Look for “Ryan’s Tips,” which will help you move through the B Impact Assessment and/or the B Corp certification process with maximum effectiveness.
In the final part, we delve into a discussion about the work still left to be done as a B Corp community as it relates to DEI. We believe that the B Corp community has made a lot of progress on DEI, but there is still a lot of work to do. We end the main content of the book by discussing what success for the B Corp movement might look like.
Importantly, the collective wisdom of the B Corp community is present throughout this book. More than two hundred CEOs, sustainability directors, impact investors, marketing executives, human resources directors, and others from an international cohort of Certified B Corporations submitted responses for this book. The goal was to get a wide range of opinions, directly from the B Corp community, about why they became a B Corp, the business benefits of B Corp certification, and the challenges that typically arise during the certification process. We also asked respondents to provide advice for companies that are considering whether to certify. In fact, one of the most powerful aspects of this book is the opportunity to hear fellow business leaders describe, in their own words, why their company became a B Corp and why they think B Corps matter.
There are three final things to consider. First, B Corp offers a framework that any company in any state or country in the world can use to build a stronger and more inclusive business. This framework is relevant whether you are a business-to-business (B2B) or a business-to-consumer (B2C) business, a local sole proprietor or a global brand, a start-up or a third-generation family business, a limited liability company or a partnership, an employee-owned company or a cooperative, a C corporation or an S corporation, or even if you are still deciding on the right structure for a new business.
Second, B Corp is relevant to you personally, whether you are attracted or repelled by such terms as “green,” “socially responsible,” or “sustainable”; whether you consider yourself conservative or progressive; whether you consider yourself an expert in DEI or a beginner; whether you are a student, a young entrepreneur, or an experienced businessperson. If you have ever thought about how you could make a living and make a difference, about how you can build a more equitable economy, about your legacy and the example you set for your kids, or about leading a purpose-driven life—and especially if you’ve thought about how you could use business as a force for good—the B Corp movement is for you.
Finally, DEI should not exist as a side project, an isolated initiative, or something your company talks about once every few years. B Corps and aspiring B Corps would be wise to integrate DEI into every aspect of their businesses. Addressing bias, racism, sexism, or any diversity challenge is not like surgery to remove an appendix. You don’t just cut it out one day and then it’s over. It’s more like hygiene––you have to keep tending to it if you want to stay healthy.
The world is watching us. The B Corp community needs to continue to lead and inspire. After all, if B Corps can’t get inclusion right, who can?
Want to learn more? Get your copy of the book today and/or sign up for our online launch event on May 30, 2019. To help us spread the word, please check out our promotional guide for The B Corp Handbook. Sign up for the LIFT Economy newsletter to stay up to date about the book and the B Corp movement.