New Impact Improvement Program Helps B Corps Explore Racial Equity Practices and Policies
Providing a way for business leaders to build anti-racist companies and a more equitable economy was the key goal at the inception of the first Racial Equity Impact Improvement Program led by B Lab U.S. & Canada. The program, launched in April 2023, included leaders from 12 Certified B Corporations who took an eight-week journey of education and exploration about racial equity with guidance from experts at partner organizations.
The Racial Equity Impact Improvement Program builds on B Lab U.S. & Canada’s work as part of the Corporate Racial Equity Alliance with PolicyLink, JUST Capital, and FSG. In 2021, the Alliance released the CEO Blueprint for Racial Equity to identify ways that B Corps and other businesses can combat systemic racism. Incorporating the CEO Blueprint and elements of the B Impact Assessment, the Racial Equity Impact Improvement Program takes a holistic look at ways businesses can increase opportunities for People of Color and close the racial wealth gap, said Marielle Martin, Racial Equity Program Manager at B Lab U.S. & Canada.
“The CEO Blueprint for Racial Equity talked about everything that a company needs to do to become anti-racist … and it was a long list of items,” Martin said. “But none of it said how. It’s a blueprint of the end goal, but not how to get there.”
To help create that journey, Martin worked with CapEQ to develop the inaugural Racial Equity Impact Improvement Program for participants selected through outreach to B Corps that showed an aptitude for anti-racist practices. “Part of the success of the program was an application process that focused on the individuals who were joining. We ended up with 24 people that showed up committed for eight weeks,” she said. “At the start, their education around racial equity was at various levels, but we all ended at the same place. They serve as examples: If you’re committed and you invest your time, the work can continue to move forward.”
The program’s focus on actionable information appealed to Bruce Cohen, Vice President Strategy and Innovation, and Susan Blue, President and CEO, at Community Services Group (CSG), one of the 12 B Corps selected for the initial cohort. “In the last two years, the Executive Team completed an implicit bias program and we worked with a DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] consultant to better understand where CSG was in our DEI journey,” they said. “We struggled to identify operational changes we could make to increase diversity in our workforce and make our work spaces safe for all perspectives. We applied to the Impact Improvement program because of its focus on action through operational changes.”
The B Corp leaders in the program committed to three activities each week. They started with two-hour learning sessions on Mondays on topics including open hiring practices, inclusivity in organizational leadership, board diversity, living wage analysis, and wealth-building benefits. Participants then gathered for peer collaboration on Wednesdays, then met with their mindset coach on Fridays. Throughout the eight-week program, Martin said, the B Corp participants learned to apply a racial lens to policies and procedures that reinforce systemic oppression.
“Sometimes we don’t understand how we got to where we are now, but it’s rooted in our history,” Martin said. “You have to talk about the history of incarceration and where that comes from. Especially how Indigenous folks in Canada and Black folks in the U.S. have been disproportionately marginalized.
“The B Lab Racial Equity Team wants to take the B Corp community at large on a journey of education and turn that into awareness and awareness into action.”
That journey — of education, awareness, and action — focuses on racial equity, one of three pillars in B Lab U.S. & Canada’s Theory of Change. The Racial Equity Impact Improvement Program is the latest in several recent initiatives to support B Corps in addressing systemic racism. These include the Learning Journey that launched in early 2023 and sessions at the Champions Retreat 2022 gathering for B Corps.
With a focus on tools and practices to address these challenges, the Racial Equity Impact Improvement Program sessions build knowledge among B Corps that can help create ripple effects of change. Martin said plans are in the works to expand the program for 2024, with the potential for a digital version to reach a broader group. B Lab U.S. & Canada is also advocating for racial equity efforts to be incorporated into the evolving B Corp Certification standards led by B Lab Global, Martin said. “We’re asking how companies can get points that recognize the work they’re doing in this area.”
B Corps Move Forward with Tools to Address Wealth Building, Leadership Opportunities, and More
The holistic approach of the Racial Equity Impact Improvement Program provided a framework for participants to identify the practices and principles they will start at their businesses. A few of the participating B Corp leaders shared the sessions that inspired them the most:
- Re-examining benefits for wealth-building. Jenna Kuchinsky, Director of Operations at Yulu PR, said: “I found the session on building wealth especially impactful. At Yulu, we’re proud to offer several benefits to support our team’s financial well-being. However, this session made us take a closer look at why and how we offer these benefits, and how we can modify our existing policies to ensure they are more meaningful to our team.” Kuchinsky also participated in the one-on-one inclusive leadership coaching program provided by Beyond Inclusion Group and said that it contributed greatly to her growth. “The coaching sessions helped me become more aware of personal tendencies and habits that were getting in the way of becoming a more effective and inclusive leader. It also provided me with tangible tools to confidently approach difficult conversations. Since completing the program, my confidence in approaching issues of diversity as a leader has improved tremendously. I am more comfortable speaking up and addressing issues within my organization that are taking away from us being a truly inclusive place to work.”
- Adding inclusive leadership opportunities. Miren Oca, Owner, and Mary Walsh, Impact Leader, of Ocaquatics Swim School, said: “We believe the sessions on recruitment, retention, and inclusivity in leadership will help us create the biggest impact for our business and our community. For the future, the session on board diversity presented by Take Your Seat has given us the tools and resources to create a board of directors with diversity and inclusion in mind from inception. … One phrase we heard that we loved was ‘lower the barrier, not the bar.’”
- Continuing the learning. Derek Hydon, Founder of MaCher USA, said: “When I read about the cohort, it spoke to me deeply, that this learning can never stop, that both myself and our business can do so much more to advance social justice in many ways inside and outside our business. … There are so many inequities we don’t see; the cohort opened my eyes to more things we can easily fix and adopt.”
- Setting short- and long-term goals. Bruce Cohen and Susan Blue of Community Services Group (CSG) said: “We are still unpacking all that we learned from the Impact Improvement program. Our goal is to take specific recommendations to the Executive Leadership Committee this summer, identifying both short-term changes we can make and longer-term strategies that require more development. We anticipate that some of this information will refocus our current [diversity and inclusion] committee and help CSG set clearer DEI goals.”
Program Partners Help Share and Scale Racial Equity Lessons for B Corp Community
Partner organizations were selected to provide two-hour lessons to the B Corp leaders on practices that can help bridge the racial wealth gap, such as fair-chance hiring, inclusive leadership, living wage analysis, and wealth-building benefits. A few of the partners shared highlights and takeaways from their sessions:
- Reinforcing the interconnected interventions: Tynesia Boyd, President and CEO of CapEQ, an advisory firm that partners with organizations to achieve superior financial returns through social impact and equity. CapEQ was the MC for all sessions, grounding each meeting in the CEO Blueprint for Racial Equity. Boyd said: “This cohort is deeply committed to the work and gelled immediately in service of fueling outcomes that benefit historically and currently marginalized communities. It was so rewarding to witness light bulbs going off between sessions and to reinforce how interconnected each of these interventions are. Each participant was willing and able to share the good, bad, and ugly on their path to achieving equity.”
- Scaling adoption of fair-chance hiring practices: Amanda Sendero, VP of People at Honest Jobs, which provides a platform for U.S. employers to hire job seekers with criminal records. During the session, Sendero shared the case for fair-chance hiring, challenges and lessons from employers, and tactical advice for launching or expanding fair-chance hiring efforts. Sendero said: “There are leaders out there who want to drive meaningful change as individuals, as organizations, and as a community. They don’t necessarily know how. I’m grateful that B Lab enables access to the insights and expertise leaders need to learn, evolve, and create change within their spheres of influence. The need and the opportunity are huge.”
- Sharing actionable strategies for Inclusive Hiring: Marcia Needels, Partner, and Jackie Bycinthe, Recruiting Programs, at Digital Knack. Digital Knack is a boutique recruitment firm for early-stage technology companies. Their goal is simple: work with value-driven companies to hire exceptional talent and cement inclusive hiring practices into their client’s DNA. Digital Knack’s discussion focused on how to approach inclusive hiring, Needels said: “Working with this cohort was inspiring. For innovation to be more inclusive, we have to build companies that prioritize diversity and uncover their own blind spots. Sharing our philosophies, real-world experiences, and even some of our proprietary practices with this cohort has been an absolute privilege. With change agents like CapEQ, the B Corp community, and these cohort leaders guiding our future companies and teams, the future is bright.”
- Establishing authentic and realistic strategy: Tamaria Kai Perry, Vice President, and Nina-Simone Beaver, Program Consultant, Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Through its Innovation & Entrepreneurship programming, Thurgood Marshall College Fund provides professional development and upskilling programs to students from Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs). They shared how deliberate recruiting strategies can help advance inclusion and equity, remove systemic barriers, and develop a more diverse workforce. “We specifically discussed the importance of establishing authentic and realistic strategy when recruiting diverse talent, selecting partners like TMCF with a long-standing tradition of serving the HBCU community. We were inspired by the engagement and discussions generated, and we hope that our insights resonated with fellow participants, encouraging them to take concrete steps toward building more inclusive and equitable recruitment practices in their own organizations.”
- Debunking myths about inclusive leadership: Jerusha Stewart, CEO of Take Your Seat, a public benefit corporation dedicated to elevating company performance by accelerating inclusivity through educational experiences for boards and leaders. With Gayle Guest-Brown of Guest-Brown Impact, they debunked myths and misconceptions about increasing diversity during the session on board diversity and inclusivity. This included an introduction to Deloitte’s Research on The Six Signature Traits of Inclusive Leadership: commitment, cognizance of bias, courage, curiosity, cultural intelligence, and collaboration. Guest-Brown said: “It was fantastic to hear them speak directly about their ideas for moving forward. One company spoke about utilizing more platforms to connect with people who are diverse. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy working with Take Your Seat. They have one of the largest directories of BIPOC leaders and allies embracing equitable leadership. They are a resource community that’s constantly growing.” Stewart said: “It was incredibly inspiring to be amongst leaders committed to having their businesses be a force for good. From small businesses to multimillion-dollar enterprises, they’re a testament to the idea that the way to make change is to take action. The Racial Equity Impact Improvement Program is another step on the road to creating sustainable systemic change. It’s all about making progress, not perfection.”
Interested in the 2024 Racial Equity Impact Improvement Program? Follow Marielle Martin on LinkedIn for updates or email her for more information.
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