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Are B Corps Really the Answer for Dismantling White Supremacy in Business?

By Katie Secrist, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Senior Sustainability Consultant 

I recently attended the Pacific Northwest B Corp Leadership Development (BLD) conference, hosted by B Local PDX and was overwhelmed with the amount of passion and desire to talk about white supremacy and issues of race in the workplace.  But questions of doubt still danced through my head – Is passion enough?

It wasn’t always the case that B Corps were true leaders on dismantling systemic racism. No more than a few years ago, conversations about white supremacy in the workplace were considered taboo – this leading community of responsible businesses didn’t want to talk about this topic any more than other traditional businesses. Enter: The Dismantle Collective, founded in 2018, designed to bring true conversations about race in business to the one self-selected, pre-approved community of businesses that should be able to lean into and lead on the topic.

Today, the progress the B Corps have made on white supremacy has greatly improved, but there is still a long way to go. After all, this type of work is a journey – not a destination.

Certified B Corporations, if you aren’t familiar already, are the ‘teacher’s pets’ of corporate social responsibility. Their passion for better business practices fuels their everlasting search for tools, shared knowledge, and best practices for redefining the way we do business forever. But as we recall from our own experiences with teacher’s pets, too much of a good thing can actually hurt.

The speakers of this year’s BLD conference reminded us that sometimes, addressing racial progress can hurt, particularly when we think we’re doing the right thing. When we go too fast, as B Corps often get caught doing, we may miss critical steps in racial healing or do what we think is best, rather than listening for what those affected most really need.

Some tips we all walked away with for dismantling white supremacy:

  • Slow Down. The real change that is required for this movement takes time. You cannot reduce this work to checking boxes. Go at the speed of trust – trust in your colleagues that you’ll get there when you get there, trust in the process. Credit: Alexis Braly James, Fully.
  • Forget the Haters. This work will inevitably bring about resistance and you may lose employees and customers – but are those the customers you really want? Or the employees that bring the most value to your organization? For every stakeholder that walks away, another will walk in, with greater loyalty, dedication, and belief in your company than those you lost.
  • Step Up, Step Back. The first action to take is stepping up into the commitment to be better. Then, more often than not, the next action is to step back from all that you’ve been taught (maybe even all that you’ve built) to allow room for equitable services, equitable products, equitable leadership teams, and equitable solutions.

B Corps might be an answer for the short term, with all their passion and drive for better business, but it will take every company committing to the true work of dismantling white supremacy to make the lasting change our society needs.

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