Expanding Business Social Responsibility: How Companies Can Morally and Ethically Act on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
B Corps Expand Company and Worker Mindsets While Also Broadening Business Opportunities
“Rather than focus on someone’s past, we instead invest in their future,” says Sara Marcus, partnerships manager at Yonkers, New York-based Greyston Bakery. “By hiring on a first-come, first-serve basis, we democratize access to our workforce and are able to employ those who may not have gotten a chance otherwise.”
Greyston Bakery was founded nearly 40 years ago with social purpose and business social responsibility in mind, and through the years has shared its successful recipe for inclusion and innovation with other companies.
The core mission of the bakery, a Certified B Corporation since 2008, is to provide job opportunities to those who face barriers to employment. Through an open hiring process it adopted in 1987, Greyston bypasses background checks, resumes and interviews and hires bakers, no questions asked. Through this model — since expanded through its Center for Open Hiring and adopted by other businesses — Greyston creates an inclusive workforce for people who might otherwise not be able to get hired for various reasons, such as an incarceration record.
Through business practices and worker programs, B Corps like Greyston are taking action to better reflect and serve the world around them. As they aim to improve their business social responsibility and impact on all stakeholders — including consumers, workers, and community — they work to create more inclusive and equitable workplaces, so that business works for everyone.
Some businesses and industries are ahead of the curve in this work, while others have more opportunities to improve — and to forge new paths for others to follow. B Corps can and are leading in this effort, through practices including innovative hiring models, outreach to future workers, and workplace programs that encourage honest conversations.
In this article we highlight examples of innovative equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) work at a variety of B Corps, and how small and large programs at small and large companies can add up to real, significant change.
Where Job Opportunities Are Baked-In
By shifting from screening applicants and instead focusing on supporting its workers — an inclusive practice — Greyston helps workers build their skills and confidence as they make the brownies and other yummy baked treats featured in, among other things, some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors.
Through its PathMaking community programs, Greyston offers on-site resources to help employees address everyday life challenges — such as housing, transportation, or child care — that may affect their ability to be successful on the job.
“When someone’s life is in crisis, it is extremely difficult to show up to work on time every day and do the job well,” Marcus says. “We have learned that in order to help our employees be successful — and ultimately make our business run better — we can play a role in helping our employees get the support they need.”
By demonstrating the efficacy and value of open hiring, Greyston has challenged some business norms and shown other companies how small changes can lead to large rewards while also reducing some operating costs. The B Corp’s practices, for open hiring and other innovations, have earned it Best For The World honors from B Lab every year since 2013.
“We challenge companies to think critically about legacy human resources practices and whether they can be replaced with a more inclusive approach to hiring,” says Marcus. She adds that by questioning and evaluating their business practices, companies can remove barriers to employment, enhance their workforce, and ultimately create a stronger economy that works for all.
Committed to Improvement — Large and Small
Although it’s a relatively new and small B Corp, St. Paul, Minnesota-based Beehive Strategic Communication already is gaining attention and 2019 Best For The World: Workers honors for its innovative operations. With a workplace culture grounded in a growth mindset and respect and appreciation for each person’s perspective, strengths, and abilities, Beehive aims for continual improvement.
“We continue to learn as we go and are committed to doing better and better,” says Rebecca Martin, vice president of culture and talent at Beehive, a strategic communication firm that became a B Corp in 2018.
Through the certification process and a renewed EDI focus, Beehive made changes that collectively create a large impact. They include the launch of new policies for pay equity as well as diversity and inclusion, plus a dress code that accommodates religious beliefs, medical conditions, or other circumstances.
To broaden its impact — and business social responsibility — Beehive adopted a supplier diversity policy to create more partnership opportunities for small and diverse companies, including those with designated ownership as minority, women, veteran or people with disabilities.
Beehive additionally seeks to create change in the marketing industry, which Martin says faces a national challenge in recruiting and hiring employees of color.
“Recruiting is one of my roles at Beehive, and I have begun more closely assessing the diversity of my internship candidate pool,” she says. “Not surprisingly, the candidate pool is far and away white women from three area universities that have strong PR programs and mostly white student populations.”
By working with the Minnesota Public Relations Society of America, Martin is helping to launch student chapters at three Minnesota universities with more diverse student populations. These include Concordia University, which she says has a more racially diverse student population as well as a strong, growing public relations program.
“We also post open Beehive positions on job boards that reach more diverse populations,” Martin says. These include Work Wider, a career development ecosystem connecting people in underrepresented groups to companies committed to hiring them, as well as the National Black Public Relations Society and The Brand Lab, a Minneapolis organization working to create a marketing industry that thrives on the insights and creativity of people with diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Martin suggests that other businesses looking to expand their EDI initiatives should learn more about the issues, seek out best practices, honestly explore and identify personal assumptions, unconscious biases, and blind spots, and be open to new and different ways of thinking and acting.
“Challenge yourself to become more comfortable being uncomfortable, and if you make a misstep, take that as an opportunity to learn and grow and do better,” she says.
Getting a Read On Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Employee-owned cooperative Namasté Solar, a Boulder, Colorado-based B Corp, has grown to have more than 200 workers over its 15 years. With that growth comes the need to evolve its business social responsibility and practices as a part of the company’s stated business and public benefit. Director of Employee Experience Geri Mitchell-Brown says Namasté Solar is striving to go beyond the intention of equality to attention to inclusion.
Since 2018, the B Corp has increased its attention to EDI by encouraging workers to:
- Expand individual and collective openness to different perspectives, opinions, backgrounds, beliefs and lifestyles.
- See themselves as contributors to inclusivity at Namasté Solar.
- Foster a sense of belonging that comes from feeling safe to be themselves at work and safe to make mistakes.
- Realize when words and actions (or lack of action) may have a negative effect on other people and take responsibility for the impact.
- Recognize and demonstrate empathy that each person is at different points on this journey.
To support these objectives, Namasté Solar launched a few employee education programs, including a seminar series on unconscious bias where workers watch curated videos and have open discussions.
“Anyone is encouraged to drop in, with no preparation needed,” Mitchell-Brown says. “The content is shared with all employees, so if they can’t attend in person they can watch the video at another time.”
Another program, called the “Right Use of Power” workshops, have helped create new terms — “up-power” and “down-power” — that now are used commonly at the workplace. These full-day workshops are offered twice a year, as paid time.
“Participants learn about power differentials, and the four I’s of oppression — ideological, interpersonal, institutional, and internalized,” Mitchell-Brown says. “They also explore behaviors that perpetuate oppression, and unhealthy power dynamics in the workplace and beyond.”
Stephen Kane, senior consulting services manager at Namasté Solar, says the workshops are “not easy work, but it is absolutely necessary.”
“One of the keys from my perspective is being humble enough to accept new information that may ‘charge’ you and process it with a larger societal and historical contextual lens,” Kane says. “It is easy to get defensive — myself included here — when working on these issues. I appreciate that our company is spending considerable cost to improve our ‘Nama-family’ in this way.”
To build workers’ knowledge and awareness, Namaste Solar has offered book discussion programs on two titles. The first, offered to all employees in 2018 and 2019, was on That’s What She Said: What Men and Women Need to Know About Working Together, by Joanne Lipman.
In the fall of 2019, Namasté Solar invited all workers to join small group discussions about a second book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo. Mitchell-Brown says the book was recommended by people whose work involves EDI, including members of The Dismantle Collective, a person of color-led group of B Corp employees. Nearly 50 Namasté Solar workers participated in the discussions.
Find more inclusive practices in these B The Change articles:
- Ben & Jerry’s: Educating Themselves and Others About Racial Equity: B Corp’s Social Mission Grows and Evolves Through the Years
- Shining a Light on Diversity at Work: UK B Corp Bulb Shares a Snapshot of Employee Diversity Data and Where It Looks to Change
- Structural Inclusion: What It Means and Why It Matters: Why It’s Vital to Review the Workplace Foundation Before Effective Diversity and Inclusion Work Can Begin
- The Neighbourhood Group Nurtures Community and an Inclusive Economy: With a ‘Push’ from the Inclusive Economy Challenge, Ontario B Corp Renews Focus on Financial Services for Employees
- Harnessing the Power of Community to Create a More Inclusive and Regenerative B Economy: Let’s Get to Work: Takeaways from 2019 Champions Retreat
B the Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.
Expanding Business Social Responsibility: How Companies Can Morally and Ethically Act on Equity… was originally published in B The Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.