The Business Case for Diversity

Last week, SSC attended the B Corp Inclusion Academy in Richmond. The day-long event was presented by Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman of TMI Consulting and focused on the specific diversity and inclusion challenges many B Corps face. A variety of Virginia B Corps were represented at the Inclusion Academy, which brought many different backgrounds and experiences to the table.

The day was filled with discussions, ranging from a focus on our own personal diversity to recognizing biases in the work place. At the core of the event, the message was clear: what is the business case for diversity? We all know that diversity is important and needed, but why? How can we, as B Corps, help bring diversity to our businesses? What is stopping us? These are just some of the questions we faced and discussed at length. Here are some of the key takeaways from the Inclusion Academy:

Why Diversity?

There was a point during the day when we were all asked a simple question: why diversity? Why is diversity important? Why is it needed? Why should businesses care? One by one, we all went around the room stating why we needed diversity. So why do we, as companies, need diversity? Here are some of the answers everyone came up with:

  • For different perspectives
  • Creating cultural relationships
  • Allowing for innovation and engagement
  • Keeping your customer base in mind
  • Benefits in recruiting
  • Help with marketing
  • B Corp credibility
  • Helping unlock your brain's creativity

Don’t let your bias stop you

Bias exists. After all, we're only human. But is our unconscious bias showing up at, and even in, our work? One of the exercises at the Inclusion Academy was focused on helping us recognize some our biases. If we start to recognize our biases, we can then move forward in trying to stop them. This can allow for better work and a better workplace environment. Hopefully with the recognition of our unconscious biases, we can then strive to make our businesses even more diverse.

Can diversity help create social good?

As a B Corp, we are focused on creating a better world, whether through the environment or through social change. So is it possible for diversity to help aid that? We were asked what exactly is the social good our company is trying to create. Once cognizant of what we're trying to bring forward, how would creating a diverse workforce help the social mission? Hearing the other companies talk about their individual social missions allowed for great discussion on how diversity can further their company and social mission.

Interested to learn more about B Corps? Check out some of our Featured B Corp of the Month blogs

4 Challenges Every Sustainability Leader Faces

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Earlier this week we posted a blog post about how to become a more effective sustainability leader. Here is an old blog post addressing challenges every sustainability leader faces:

Regardless of the leadership role we play, there are common challenges every leader faces as we seek to build an organization or guide a team.

-- Dr. Bill Donahue, Linked 2 Leadership

If you are leading your organization's sustainability efforts, pay attention. There are four kinds of challenges that you will encounter -- and each will create its own kind of tension. Here's what to expect:

THE LEARNING CHALLENGE

As Donahue points out, too much fact gathering can result in paralysis from analysis. On the other hand, moving too quickly without thoughtful reflection and information affirms the old adage “haste makes waste.”

We've written about the need to balance learning with action here and here. While there is certainly a sense of urgency in tackling sustainability issues, we are strong advocates of intentionally taking a big step back to assess the larger picture, determine options, and understand goals.

Here's what Donahue says: Usually a new idea needs about 30-60 days to percolate and investigate – then it is time to start shaping some initial experiments, pilot programs or beta tests. Then you can do some trial and error, assess and see if you need to gather more information and what kind of data you need.

THE DEVELOPMENT CHALLENGE

We've talked about how to engage and empower employees herehere, and here -- but Donahue makes an important point that, "if you empower dummies, you get dumb decisions faster!" Sustainability leaders must focus on encouraging employees, but also developing their skills so that they can actually do what needs to get done.

Donahue:  Any development strategy requires attention to the “heart” – passions, motives, dreams – and skill development for the “hands” of every leader. Help an emerging leader know what to do but also why it needs to be done so that people change and the mission is accomplished.

THE RECONCILIATION CHALLENGE

In pursuing sustainability, we must break down old behaviors, stop old habits, and instill new practices. This kind of deep-rooted change inevitably introduces conflict. How sustainability leaders handle that conflict will determine whether, 1) the sustainability problem is solved, and 2) whether the relationship can be rebuilt. 

Donahue:  Speak the truth but do it in a gracious, even tone, seeking to understand the other person even as you point out the problem or issue. Give them some space to explain and response, but make sure you speak the whole truth.

THE IMPACT CHALLENGE

There are only so many hours in a day, and sustainability leaders will have to make some tough calls. Here's the question that Donahue wrestles with: "Do we put more energy building relationships on the team and investing in people or focus on getting the job done with excellence and efficiency?" The answer is that sustainability leaders need to be constantly balancing between focusing on the task and focusing on the people. 

Donahue:  And a clear understanding of what success looks like for the project is equally important so that the task is completed with excellence. You can do both.

If you liked this article, you'll love our free white papers on Sustainable Change Management, Engaging Employees, and Becoming a Sustainability Champion. (And the best way you can say thanks is to share this article on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn!)

How to Become a More Effective Sustainability Leader

Here is a blog post from May 2013 that we think still has a lot of important information:

In the Inc. article, 3 Things All Great Leaders Know About Themselves, author Les McKeown argues that great leaders continually seek to know themselves better. And since we're always looking for ways to help build the capability for our clients’ in-house sustainability leaders, we were intrigued to see the three questions that McKeown says will "yield immediate (positive) results in how you lead."

Do you typically undershoot or overshoot? 

The single most immediate area for self-awareness improvement I see in most leaders is to gain a clear understanding of how they set goals (formally and informally). Again and again I work with leaders unaware that they are consistently playing small ball (setting goals that are way too conservative given their talents) or forever overreaching (setting goals they won't achieve, causing disappointment for themselves and exhaustion in their team)...Once you know which is your tendency, the key of course is to recalibrate your goal setting. If you're undershooting, set your goals higher, step by step. If you're consistently overshooting, lower them, little by little. Once you've hit your sweet spot and are consistently hitting near or at the goals you set, you will of course want to start edging those goals upward. Nothing wrong with that--pushing goals based on a record of consistent success is a good thing.

This is a great question not just for individual sustainability practitioners, but also for the entire sustainability team. When setting energy, waste, and water goals, are you too conservative or too aggressive? Why do you lean one way or another? What are the pros and cons of your approach? 

Is your tendency to analyze, fix, or delegate? 

The second area I see leaders gain the biggest advantage from understanding is in knowing how they respond when things go wrong. Broadly, there are three possible responses: analyze what just happened; "just fix it"; delegate responsibility for fixing it to someone else. (These broadly map to the ProcessorOperator and Visionary styles of leadership, respectively.) If in most cases you respond with a mixture of all three possible responses (some analysis, some direction, and some delegation), then all is well. If you consistently responded by going straight to one option (analyze, fix, or delegate), then you have a challenge ahead--you're taking a knee-jerk, and hence blinkered, approach to problem solving. 

How do you resolve sustainability challenges? Do you have processes in place to thoughtfully evaluate problems so that they do not recur? Have you built a talented team around you who can pick up the slack and address problems on their own? Are you able to quickly and efficiently fix problems when they crop up?

Do you usually say yes or no? 

This last one is easy to analyze but just as profound: Do you consistently say yes to everything that comes your way, causing you to overcommit and underdeliver? Or do you consistently say no, building a reputation as a stick in the mud and missing opportunities to innovate?

This is probably the biggest challenge we see with sustainability strategies -- either they are scattered all over the place, or focused on a single issue. The truth is that an effective sustainability program needs to be built around a handful of high-impact issues that matter to the company and its value chain. This means that sustainability leaders must 1) understand what issues matter to the company and its stakeholders, 2) be able to prioritize those issues, and 3) develop initiatives that support and integrate those issues into the day-to-day decision-making processes of the company.

How does your leadership profile stack up against these questions? Are these the right questions to ask? Are any questions missing? (One of the people who commented in the original article suggested that the question, "how do your employees communicate with you?" should be a fourth question.) Leave us a comment here, or join the conversation on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter).