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.