From strikes to rallies and petitions, employee activists are leading the way in advancing social justice movements in the workplace. As young professionals take their place in the workforce, we are seeing a push for just working environments and progressive change. By using their careers as catalysts to talk about issues personal to them, many employees are using business as a force for good. It’s important to note, too, that there’s no sign of employee activism slowing down: Both Millennials and Gen Z prioritize corporate responsibility more than previous generations.
Employee activism has been a tool used throughout history to push politicians to commit and act in the interest of all people and advocating for equitable changes. By going on strike or using their leverage as a key part of a community’s economy, activists everywhere are able to speed up the change process. Take the Wayfair Walkouts for example, where employees demanded that leadership divest from the supplying materials amid the worsening conditions in the immigration concentration camps at the southern US border, or how the LGBTQ+ staff at Google petitioned to exclude Google from the San Francisco Pride Parade for failing to properly address hate speech online that targets members of their community.
With these grassroots efforts growing stronger, many employers are jumping on the chance to increase retention rates and offer a more diverse and inclusive working environment. However, making grand declarations on your devotion to D&I isn’t enough for most employee activists, and they can see when words amount to little more than bluster. Employee activists are on the frontlines of revolutionizing workplaces to be more inclusive, and organizations and leadership are now faced with the challenge of building cultures of belonging and engagement that reverberate out into the world.
Knowing Where You Stand: The B Impact Assessment
To give organizations the foundational tools to turn words into action, B Lab has created an actionable set of tools to help you implement, track, and grow in your D&I efforts into meaningful change.
The B Impact Assessment, created by B Lab for B Corps, provides support, goals, and a community to jumpstart your diversity and inclusion initiatives. This new initiative, named The Inclusive Economy Challenge, is a call to action for the B Lab community to push toward an ever more inclusive economy and measuring collective, positive impact. To participate, B Corps are committed to making at least three measurable improvements from the Inclusive Economy Metric Set, which provides concrete metrics on themes like supporting vulnerable workers, climate change mitigation, supplier screening, and corporate governance.
Measuring Change: Tracking DEI Progress
Diversity and inclusion metrics are critically important in showcasing your efforts because they translate words into results. Metrics help employers who are committed to DEI stay on track by encouraging the identification and management of bias and practices. Metrics can also prioritize initiatives and clearly define your goals.
For example, one of the DEI metrics reinforced by the Inclusive Economy Challenge is paying all employees a living wage, and this includes part-time, temporary, and independent contractors. Too many workers are forced to work multiple jobs, often at the expense of their families all while fighting against cycles of poverty and income inequality. Even as we speak, Amazon employees just staged a mass protest to secure a living wage and call attention to poor working conditions on the company’s Prime Day. Paying a living wage allows everyone, especially entry-level employees, to meet their basic needs, and communicates that an organizational value is an improved quality of life. Providing a consistent living wage, combined with fair and objective hiring practices, increases organizational diversity and equity.
Shared Leadership: Creating Shared Power with Employee Ownership
B Corps also encourage companies to offer shared ownership. When your employees have stock ownership plans, cooperatives, stock options, and more, they are more likely to be invested in the success of the overall company, seeing as the company’s success is also their success. By sharing the success of your business broadly, you are able to combat inequalities within your company as well as have a wider social impact.
Employee ownership opens up an often-exclusionary form of economic capital by empowering employees to step up in leadership roles, shape the organizational culture, and combat toxic hierarchical imbalances. Shared ownership is especially effective in confronting inequality that disproportionately affects historically marginalized people, some of whom are members of your team and organization. Sharing ownership also increases employee engagement. The opportunity to share in the ownership of a company can provide stability and growth for people who can otherwise feel trapped in socioeconomic immobility as a result of external forces like generational poverty and systemic bias.
People First: Good for Your Employees, Good for Your Business, Good for the World
The concept that paying more for employee benefits will actually increase your bottom line is certainly counterintuitive, especially when just taken at face value. But many companies have seen increased revenue, productivity, and retention rates from raising their workers’ wages. However, loosening the reins of control by opening up organizational avenues for shared ownership is easier said than done.
Creating diverse, inclusive workplaces by receiving and integrating feedback from all employees needs more than a “do-gooder intention” – the practices we put in place today sets the example for others to follow suit and raises the standard for what makes successful organizations around the world. Employee activists, embodied by employees at Wayfair or Google and their rise in organizations around the world, are leading the charge in demanding progressive companies shape an inclusive economy and future.
As my co-author of the second edition of The B Corp Handbook, Ryan Honeyman writes, “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.”
If this seems overwhelming, you’re not alone, and you’re also not alone in your desire to create meaningful change in the world. The B Corp Handbook will give you suggestions, solutions, tips, and tricks on how to increase your societal impact and use your business as a Force for Good. Join the Inclusive Economy Challenge and create systemic change, beginning with learning from our growing global community of employee activists.
Tiffany Jana is an internationally known keynote speaker on the topic of diversity and racial equity in the workplace and the founder of TMI Consulting Incorporated, a diversity and inclusion management-consulting firm. TMI Consulting is a benefit corporation as well as a certified B Corporation and earned the 2016 and 2018 Best for the World honor from the nonprofit B Lab that certifies B Corps worldwide. They are the author of four books; Overcoming Bias, which received an endorsement from 2016 Vice-Presidential candidate Tim Kaine, Erasing Institutional Bias, The B Corp Handbook, 2nd edition, and Subtle Acts of Exclusion.