What’s in a name?: The difference between certified B Corps and Benefit Corporations

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Benefit Corporation, being certified B Corp, sounds like the same thing right? Are they the same thing? Well, sometimes, but by definition no.

In this episode of Dirigo Collective’s podcast, Responsibly Different, listen as host, Benn Marine talks with Conscious Revolution founder, Tara Jenkins and Helen Sterling Coburn, an attorney with Bernstein Shur and they unpack the differences between certified B Corps, Benefit Corporations, and where they intersect.

What’s in a name?

Access the forms you need to convert to a Benefit Corporation in the state of Maine

Read the Benefit Corporation Statute in Maine

Learn more about Benn Marine and Dirigo Collective

Learn more about Helen Sterling Coburn from Bernstein Shur

If not now, when?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

If you aren’t thinking about racial justice and racial equity you must have the privilege of intentionally blocking it out. You’d have to be working really hard to do that right now. If you weren’t already outraged at blatant racism and white supremacy in the US, and you aren’t outraged now, then take a long look in the mirror. 

I’ve been taking a long look in the mirror for a while now. As a result, the horrific tragedies in the headlines have not been surprising. Which is so sad to acknowledge. I’m compelled to try to straighten out a few things, first for myself, and then for business leaders who have separated racial justice and racial equity as issues for activists to fight rather than issues for every person to act on, personally and as business leaders. It’s important to acknowledge that my perspective is a middle aged (how did that happen?) privileged white women passionate about racial justice based on volunteer work, equity work over the course of my career, self directed education and learning from my clients. While I’ve experienced gender discrimination along with every other women, as a white person I will never know what it feels like to be a black person. I write as an ally with deep respect for the immeasurably different experience a black person has in our society. In many ways I feel I don’t have the right to say anything about racism. Yet I also know that in order to change our society more people have to speak up. I’m speaking up with the sole intention of sharing what I’ve learned and dispelling the myths I believe are still prevalent that are blocking racial justice and equity.  I’m sure I won’t get this all right, I have so much more learning to do, but at the very least I have to try. 

Black people need white people, so show up white people 

As was repeated continuously at Black Lives Matter protests, there is no way that People of Color can combat racial injustice and white supremacy and build racial equity on their own. And they should never be asked to do that. The only way racism ends is if white people end it. We have the power, by design, to make it happen. It’s up to us. So all of us white people, we must get educated, show up, listen, learn, and only act in ways that promote racial justice and build racial equity

Every white person has benefited from racism

The faster we acknowledge that white supremacy was designed to benefit every white person over every person of color the sooner we move to dismantling the system that was built to keep white people in power. White people have to give up the power that has been unjustly and deliberately built into every institution in our society (our schools, government, laws, companies, technology, media, movies, shows, toys, books, it’s a never ending list). We must believe with every fiber of our being that racial equity benefits all of us.

It’s not individual racism we need focus on 

White people like to think that if they aren’t racist they’ve done their duty. White supremacy is about skinheads and Neo-Nazi groups, right? And if I’m not one of them, and I view them with passionate disdain, I’ve done what I’m supposed to do, right? Those horrible people have nothing to do with me, so I’m good, right? This is one of the biggest lies we tell to convince ourselves that everything will be OK once people stop being bigots. This thinking will forever perpetuate racism. Yes, there are racists that make your stomach turn and blood boil. However this is not a chicken vs egg problem where we don’t know where to start. It’s clear where we must start. We start with the systems because our deliberately built racist systems breed racism and racists.  Do not let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. 

Once you see it you can’t unsee it, and that’s the point

Once you really acknowledge your systemic white privilege you will see evidence of it everywhere. You can’t get away from it. You will be constantly disgusted, dismayed, demoralized, frustrated.  And that’s not even an iota of what it would feel like to be walking around with a different skin color. So when you want to just bury your head in the sand remember that you are privileged to have the choice to do so. You must keep working as an ally for every marginalized part of our society. Everywhere you see oppression happening, regardless of who the victim is, benefits white supremacy and must be stopped. 

This is a long game

For those of us passionate about building conscious businesses long term orientation is familiar thinking. Racism was deliberately built into the framework of the United States and has been around for over 400 years. We must work steadily together to dismantle it and it will take a long time. How long, no one knows. But we, white people, control the accelerator.  Let’s be thoughtful, deliberate and swift.  Let’s celebrate all progress and not get discouraged. When the protests end and the media coverage shifts, there is a ton of work to do and we all have to do it together.

Start Creating our New World Now

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Social revolution has always started with people, not with government, not with business.  While it can seem that we are powerless as individuals, we actually hold the most power. Take an issue that makes you angry and follow it to the root cause. At its root was a decision by an individual or a bunch of individuals that had the power to make a different decision. Through our votes, we decide who represents us in the government. Through our money, we decide which businesses thrive, a double whammy because thriving businesses in many ways control the government. Our collective power is unmatched. The pandemic has opened us up to see what’s possible. It’s possible for us to put people’s safety and health over money. It’s possible for us to prioritize humanity on a global scale. Lots of people are asking, how will the world be different after this is all over? I’ve been turning that around in my mind, looking for an answer I can settle on. 

First, we must acknowledge that the pandemic is a nightmare for many people around the world. We are all horrified by the news headlines. Yet for many of us that’s a distant reality. For many of us, quarantining is an inconvenience. The widespread financial impact of job loss has  safety nets, allowing housing payment delays, loan forgiveness and expanded unemployment. We know there’s a likely reprieve if we can’t pay a bill. While there are devastating impacts, the pandemic has created unexpected positive outcomes as well:

  • Our Earth has been given time to heal from our relentless degradation.  
  • Corporations have found innovative and swift solutions to solve global issues, solutions once thought impossible in times when profit was prioritized first. 
  • Families are spending more quality time together and there is a collective slowing down, taking stock
  • Communities have come together to support and rally around one another

Ask A Different Question

What will our world be like when this is all over? A danger lies in that question. The question creates complacency, making this all seem like time wasted in waiting. It sets up that once this is all over we can breathe a sigh of relief and return back to “normal”. But back to normal for most of the world was already unacceptable. A world where the anonymous quote “if you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention” was ever present. Do we really want to go back to that? If we think about it differently than being “over” does that change how we approach this time?  What if this is an opportunity to RESET our society starting right now? Starting now to apply our key learnings. Starting now to shape the world how we want it to be. Starting now to visualize the evolved world we are going to actively create. How could we do this now?   

Broaden the work from home approach now

Far more jobs can be done from home than ever anticipated. Many companies had old fashioned thinking about “face time” and “butts in seats”. There’s no need to go back to the way it was.  Working from home on a larger scale saves enormous resources; less oil from reduced driving, less heating and cooling big spaces, less carbon in the air. OK, maybe it is optimal to have people see each other in person sometimes. So do that sometimes, it doesn’t need to be everyday. In fact every day is incredibly inefficient when you factor in commute time. Some 100% remote companies have proven that a wonderful culture can be built remotely. Tons of research shows that people are more productive at home, despite the draconian managers belief that people need to be watched like children. Imagine how much better working from home will be for everyone when the kids are back in school!  Companies can start planning a post pandemic work from home policy right now. 

Stop buying “stuff” 

We don’t need as much stuff as we thought we did, do we? In this unusual time our minimalist approach to life is fueled by store closures and product shortages. Has it really mattered that we couldn’t buy the latest gigamabob? Not at all. What if we assumed everything was 4X the cost of the retail price and then asked ourselves if we really need it?  4X is conservative. If the actual cost of all of the stages of the product life cycle were included, such as the environmental degradation created to make the product, the societal cost of the child labor, the transportation costs of distribution, and the livable wage workers should be making it’s definitely more than 4x cost. So if you had to pay 4X more for every product you buy, what would you choose to buy? A lot less stuff, a lot more consciously. What if each time you bought a product you had to give the difference between the price you actually paid and 4X to a grassroots organization fighting to solve a mass consumption problem?  Be ready for the onslaught of marketing in our eventual recovery telling us it’s patriotic to buy stuff. As soon as it seems reputationally safe to do this our government and big business will start this campaign. Don’t fall for it.  

Stop buying fast fashion and new clothes

The clothes we have are enough. The apparel industry is a top pollutor in the world.. If we shift how much we buy (a lot less), how often we buy (less frequently), where we buy (resale stores rather than new) and reject fast fashion (designed to sell us cheap, low quality clothing that is highly discarded) then the industry will be forced to shift too.

Boycott companies that are only out for themselves

We can choose now to only buy from companies that align with our values and are focused on the greater good rather than solely on their own success. The bad actors of our society need a message that their ways are no longer acceptable. Social media has many costs and benefits but one of the clear benefits is that employees can share the real story directly. We don’t have to sort through companies’ marketing strategies to determine what’s really going on there. And COVID has changed our expectations about what’s possible. Let’s not forget what we’ve learned. One obvious company to boycott – Amazon. 

Devote your precious time and energy consciously

While no one knows what the recovery will look like, at some point companies will surely be scrambling to hire lots of workers to meet rising demand, as so many have laid off extensively.  It will again be an “employee” market, where workers will have more leverage due to demand and a plethora of choices. Choose wisely. While you may not have a choice at the start of the recovery you will have a choice again in the not too distant future. Choosing to work for a conscious company will make all the difference in your life and also in our world. 

We can envision our new world and act now

What if the companies that emerge stronger from this experience are the best companies for the world? These are the companies that provide the most meaningful work for employees and are intent on doing something good.  When the cranks of the economy get turning again we all have immediate choices to make about what company we work for, what products we buy, and how we spend our time. We have the power to force systemic change.  We have all been indelibly changed by this experience and we can take the time now to commit to what we will change about our behavior, our buying, our holistic life when we move to the next phase. There’s no mystery about what shapes the next phase – it’s us. 

Most of the Old Adages Lie and Need to Die

A street sign that says "Time to say goodbye".
Reading Time: 8 minutes

The other day I said to my kids, probably for the 100th time, “if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say it at all”.  And after I said it I thought, wait, what am I actually saying? What is that saying really teaching them? Is it to be nice and kind and thoughtful or is it to be complacent, quiet, and passive? If you’ve read any of my other blogs you know I’ve been in questioning mode. I’ve been questioning all of my assumptions and beliefs about how the world works or how I interpret the world. I started to think about the old adages I was taught, and likely if you’ve grown up in the US you’ve been taught or heard. I thought about continuing the legacy of these adages by spreading them to my 10 year old son and 12 year old daughter. With this questioning quest I’ve realized that  much of what we’ve said and done in the past is wrong, or if not wholly wrong, certainly not as right as I always believed it to be. I wanted to be sure I knew what I saying to them, really saying, and what I was programming into their impressionable minds. And as I thought about the implications of these adages and did some research I realized that this is a deeper issue with broader implications than what I teach my children. 

Once I got curious about this, I started collecting the old adages. It wasn’t difficult, with how fast they flow out of my mouth, and then, you know how when you become aware of something it seems to be everywhere? It was just like that. Here’s the list I’ve come up with, in addition to the already mentioned;

“If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it at all.”

While we all get the kindness intent, this saying also teaches us to be conflict avoidant and not direct with what we are thinking and feeling because it’s not “nice”. Just stuff it down, suck it up, and move on. Therapists have made lots of money because of this saying. When I think of how many managers applied this adage to working with members of their team I shudder. They hold back on saying anything about a performance issue until everyone is so fed up with the situation the only solution they can think of is to push the person out in a swift, dramatic and cutthroat move that instills fear all around them. This saying has to be retired because it is just too confusing.

“Don’t make waves, Let sleeping dogs lie, Don’t rock the boat, Don’t burn bridges, You get what you get and you don’t get upset”

These sayings are other versions of stuff it down, suck it up and move on. They are directives to be complacent and not question the status quo. Did these sayings get created to keep the masses from questioning the elite? To keep people “in their place”? The more I learn about our white supremacist US history the easier it is to imagine that these adages were created to keep the so called lower classes from questioning the authority of the white men in power. And the patriarchy has a field day with these by ensuring that women remain demure and subservient, fading into the woodwork as much as possible. The consequence of these sayings being drilled into the female subconscious is “I’m just happy to be here and that’s actually more than I deserve so I can’t actually say anything. That’s just asking for too much”. Imagine if leaders that have changed our world in countlessly beneficial ways had followed these adages. They would have never spoke up, never fought for what they believed in, never took risks, never jeopardized their very existence for the greater cause they were fighting for that we all benefit from today. When these sayings are applied in organizations you get unchecked corruption, sexual harassment, inequality, inequity, discrimination, the list goes on. I’ve seen this play out often when people leave companies and will not say why. They have a horrific manager but they don’t want to “burn bridges”. The devil manager is not exposed and continues their evil ways because no one knows what’s really going on. Or worse, everyone knows what is going on but no one will go on record to say it. And who could blame them with these sayings circulating? It would be “unprofessional” to “rock the boat”. When injustice is happening how do we address it if no one is willing to “make waves or burn bridges”? Often the bridges need to be burned! The one I used with my kids most often when they were toddlers is “you get what you get and you don’t get upset”. While handy for a mounting tantrum, it teaches the wrong thing. We should be teaching our children to express their views about what’s happening to them so they learn to communicate their feelings. This is a critical life skill. So these sayings are done, gone, never to be said by me again.

“No pain, no gain” and “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”

These were common adages for me to say to myself or others to justify hardship and suffering, which we love to idealize where I grew up in New England. Kelly Clarkson even wrote a song called “What Doesn’t Kill You” so this saying lives on in an incessantly played, very catchy contemporary pop tune. These sayings teach you that things have to be hard. and turns out that’s just not true. Yes, life includes lots of difficulty, but these sayings are binary. You certainly don’t have to be in pain to gain something, as the saying would have you believe. You can gain a lot in life without having pain. I once read that for some people pain or “not getting killed to become stronger’ can lead to significant mental illness, which is an epidemic in US society. At a minimum, in organizations where people are expected to work, work, work, the pain is having no rest, tethered to devices and constantly ‘on’. This organizational pain leads to high stress, burnout, family strife, and physical and mental illness. The research proves it. I used to think that things should be hard for me, without exception, because I knew things were hard for other people. But does hardship on my account change the hardship for others? No. And if I’m spending less time struggling in my “pain” and not “being killed to get stronger” than can’t I spend more time and effort and resources to help others? Yes. In fact, I’ve learned that you should gravitate towards the things that come more easily to you because that might be in your “flow” and might be what you enjoy. And it’s OK to enjoy life. What?! Yes, it’s OK to enjoy life, despite what these sayings taught us. So these two sayings also have to go.

‘Where there’s a will there’s a way, You can do anything you want if you just try, Winners never quit and quitters never win, Failure is not an option, When the going gets tough, the tough get going”

Never quitting or failing was bored into my brain at an early age. I don’t recall hearing it from my parents, I’m not sure where it came from other than societal programming. And I definitely passed never quitting and assured triumph on to my kids. I really started questioning the meaning behind these sayings when my nine year old son joined a travel soccer team. Or more accurately, I signed him up as an enthusiastic cheerleader. It was way more than we bargained for in many ways – more money, time, and competition. And he wasn’t even enjoying it. The kids on this competitive team didn’t pass to him. He struggled on the field without realizing how much he was lacking. I cringed for hours on the sidelines, crumpling with every missed pass and bumbling dribble. I thought about why we were doing this and how it turned out much differently than expected. Then I read something about the importance of analyzing our decisions when we have more information. That when you have more information it’s OK to change your mind. I thought – yeah that’s right – it’s stupid to keep doing the same thing when you have more information that’s indicating it’s no longer the right decision. That’s not quitting, that’s logical. That’s making the best use of your life’s time. So I asked my son whether he was having fun, whether he was learning, whether the seven weekly hours were worth it to him. “I don’t think so mommy, but I know I can’t quit, you taught me to never quit.” Oh gawd! “I’ve steered you wrong, honey. I’ve learned that if you have new information that you can change your mind. It’s everyone’s right to change their mind.” “Will we get our money back Mom?” “No, but if we are both miserable and we’ll pay the money either way, why be miserable?” And so we both took our precious life’s time back and devoted it differently. And it did not feel at all like quitting, it was liberating.  

Yes, I acknowledge this is a trivial example to a much larger societal problem, but I take my aha moments anywhere I can get them. The bigger implications of these misguided sayings are that they make people feel they should keep trying to make things work that just aren’t healthy for them, like bad jobs and toxic relationships. Sometimes you just have to walk away, sometimes you can’t fix it or make it better. In these cases the only thing you are quitting on is unhappiness. That’s what you should be doing.

Failure not being an option is particularly problematic in organizations. This mantra is well ingrained in corporate America. The consequence of not being able to fail is people hiding mistakes, covering up problems, and walking around in fear that they will be “found out”. Avoiding failure stifles innovation and holds back organizations and society at large because without taking risks, which inevitably leads to some failure, we can’t evolve. Like Seth Godin said, “winners quit all the time, they just quit the right stuff at the right time”. It’s about knowing when to quit because you have new information that causes a different decision. That’s all quitting is – a different decision. We’ve already established, it’s definitely OK to make a different decision. 

And at a macro level, I’ve learned that these old adages are derived from a white supremacist, patriarchal value system about work and life. They message that all it takes to be successful  is to never give up and keep trying. By this thinking, “unsuccessful” people that struggle in any way didn’t try hard enough, quit too much, are lazy, or weren’t tough enough. They didn’t “lean in” enough. They are solely responsible for their lot in life. When you are taught this value system as a privileged white child it allows you to make sense of having so much more than others. You believe it’s because your family worked harder, you are from tougher stock, others can’t hack it. This value system allows white privileged people to ignore or worse, deny, the systemic racism and sexism going on all around us and remain comfy in our white supremacist, patriarchal nest. And we can sneak in another adage, “a rising tide lifts all boats”, to justify taking more for ourselves under the illusion that because we are doing better, others will too. A rising tide definitely does not lift all boats. We know that a rising tide most often lifts some fancy boats even higher, yachts most likely, and pushes some to shore, never to float again.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”

I’m guilty, I taught this one to my kids too. As toddlers, they would sing it to each other in their taunting little voices when they said something mean to each other. It’s just plain wrong. Words do hurt. We all know that. And words matter. Why do we keep saying words don’t hurt, therefore don’t matter? Did we try to convince ourselves that we can say anything and it doesn’t matter? Maybe this was just another way to keep things civilized, justification to not say anything, to not engage in conflict. At one point maybe this was trying to say that we should prefer hurtful words over physical harm, which is probably right as a preference, but we are beyond this now. Emotional abuse happens through words in workplaces and homes all the time and we shouldn’t be tolerating it, no less spreading adages justifying it. Goodbye sticks and stones saying, goodbye. 

Now I have a lot less handy quips to chirp out at random to my children. I’m grateful for that. This reckoning has caused me to be more thoughtful and deliberate. I’m more conscious about the words I use, because as we’ve established, words do matter! The silver lining of banning these adages is that I’m no longer saying them to myself and affirming their relevance, which has changed how I view the world and how I work with and influence my clients.  

When collecting the adages I came across some that I like and can’t find a negative. I’ve listed them below. If you see something I don’t I want to know! Please comment. Or add some of the sayings drilled into your head and the implications for you.

  • Many hands make light work
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover
  • The squeaky wheel gets the grease
  • Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket
  • One man’s trash is another man’s treasure – let’s just update to “one person’s trash is another’s treasure”