11 Ways To Build A Formidable Business—That Also Reflects Your Values
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11 Ways To Build A Formidable Business—That Also Reflects Your Values

The way our culture approaches work is broken—and it’s breaking us. We’re facing toxic and abusive work environments. We’re working more than ever for less than we’re worth. And we’re burnt out AF.

When we think about bad working conditions, a corporation like WalMart comes to mind—because what stands out starkly, despite their current commitments to improve, is how much more they could do if they straightened out their priorities. An organization that employs over one million Americans and forks over a whopping $20 billion to shareholders in stock buybacks can and should do better.

But so can you. We don’t have to wait for the big-wigs to have an awakening and get their shit together. If you have entrepreneurial aspirations, then you have the power to make a better workplace possible—just by committing to a business plan that mirrors your beliefs and works to support not only you, but also those who you employ.

We deserve to feel energized and invigorated by our work and to get credit and advancement opportunities where they’re due. We also deserve to work for people who respect our boundaries, value our contributions, and honor our voices.

Here are 11 ways you can make it happen—by baking your values into your business plan.

Build a budget that supports your employees

Too many corporate budgets are designed around profit alone, and not people. Flip the script in your business plan: Build a budget that ensures everyone on your team can thrive. Commit to paying your employees a fair wage—providing them with not just what they’re worth, but what they need to live well. If someone is working 40 hours a week to drive your success, they shouldn’t have to live paycheck-to-paycheck in order to pay rent, buy food, and fill up their gas tank at the overpriced Exxon across the street from the office.

Building an economically just budget means that if your business plan doesn’t work for your employees, it’s not working. If you don’t have enough money to pay five full-time workers what they’re worth, consider recalibrating your staffing structure instead of their salaries. Similarly, if you can’t afford to expand your business without cutting benefits, reconfigure your expansion plan instead of your health insurance plan.

Building your business with fair wages in mind may mean it will take a little longer for you to become a mogul—but you’ll get there having done right by the people who helped along the way.

Get creative with your benefits package

The Jane Club, co-founded by actor June Diane Raphael and producer Jess Zaino, calls itself “the mother of all workspaces.” And because Raphael and Zaino built their business around lifting moms up, they attracted top internal talent—including co-CEOs Dori Howard and Zoe Reagan.

“We were able to recruit high-level talent to help run The Jane Club—for no money, really—because we offered them childcare,” Raphael explained in a live video interview with me. “We got them because of what we offer here.” (Those offerings include on-site childcare, laundry service, and meals-to-go at the end of the workday.)

Paid maternity leave, paid family leave, sick days, flex time, and other benefits shouldn’t be coveted—they should be common. It’s time for higher standards across workplaces and sectors—and it’s on us to set them.

Raise your bottom line

While you’re building out your budget, you may also want to reconsider your true operating costs—for your neighbors, your surrounding cityscape, and the planet at-large—and hold yourself accountable to them, too.

If you’re in the retail game, you can do right by ethically sourcing your material and offsetting your carbon footprint from constant shipping. If you’re looking to run a brick-and-mortar, you can lift up your community by hiring locally and opening the space up for community groups looking to gather in the evenings.

Pay it forward (and back)

Your employees are helping your soon-to-be-booming business get to the level you’ve always dreamed of. You couldn’t make this happen without them. Those two truths alone are enough reason to reward them when the fruits of their labor that drive your success. They’re also solid reminders that you should strive to give your employees credit where it’s due—and perks where they’re due, too.

Show your employees that you’re grateful for all they’ve helped you accomplish. That could mean something as major as giving them a stake in the business via stock options or offering up bonuses for extraordinary accomplishments, or as fun as putting that windfall to good use with a grand holiday party.

Remember: They deserve it. (Plus, the morale boost alone will be worth it.)

Make more room at the table

Studies show that diversity is good for business and for our well-being—but the persistent white and male dominance in most fields proves that it doesn’t happen by accident. The only way to ensure that everyone gets a seat at the table is to invite them to come sit down. Intentionally recruiting, training, and mentoring people from marginalized communities is the only way to disrupt the hierarchies that privilege white men in every workspace.

“It’s important to us, especially working in film and TV, to center on women, people of color, and queer folks,” Robin Roemer, co-founder of Scheme Machine Studios, explained in an email. “We’ve had several shoots which have had entirely female and non-binary crews. It helps to balance out the male whiteness of Hollywood when you are thoughtful about your hires.”

For Scheme Machine, intentional hiring is about more than principle—it’s about finding the right people to advance their mission of making better media. “We are less interested in making canned, generic content that has been made a million times and more interested in producing and creating entertainment that is not only representative of a diverse world, but isn’t told through one lens,” Roemer said. “When you are interested in lifting up other voices and perspectives, you also have to hire directors, producers, and other crew members that will provide an authentic look into whatever story you want to tell.”

Keep an open mind about the “required” skills needed for a role

Think about it: How many times were we told that we needed a college degree to be good at our jobs? How many of us were pressured into pursuing higher education even though we had the passion and know-how then that is driving our advancement now—without the additional debt weighing us down?

The gatekeeping we’re all accustomed to isn’t just hurting our credit scores. These ideas become barriers for people without wealth and connections that keep them from the dream jobs they deserve.

When you’re hiring and recruiting, challenge yourself on the notion of “qualifications.” Does someone really need a BA and five years of on-the-job experience to do a middle-management job, or do they just need to be a bonafide badass with the business chops to prove it? Consider candidates based on their work ethic and demonstrated skills—not just their degrees.

Practice feminist leadership

Feminism is rooted in the very simple concepts of equality and choice. Part of building better businesses is that it’s on us to be better bosses—which is why feminist leadership involves turning our ideas of hierarchy and power on their heads and reconstructing what workplaces look like.

“Ever since we started our production company together, it has been really important for us to make sure that the people we hire onto projects are valued for their work,” Roemer told me. “We want anyone working with us to not only be fairly compensated, but also given credit for their ideas and the space to do their jobs without a ton of micromanagement. We hire people we trust and then we trust them to do their jobs.”

That might not sound revolutionary, but it is. Building your business around your values means putting feminist theory into practice. It means redefining “work” and “success,” valuing fulfillment over output, encouraging collaboration over competition, and ditching the founders’ syndrome to create more opportunities for tomorrow’s female leaders.

Rethink outdated notions of professionalism

I once asked a former supervisor if she would submit a letter of reference for me—and afterward, she sent me a copy for my brag file. (My brag file had not existed until this day. This is another post in and of itself, but: Start a brag file.) I was struck by what she wrote: That I “bring my whole self” to work. Of course I do!

Then I realized that many of us don’t—and, even worse, many of us can’t. In too many workplaces, showing up authentically can be a liability.

Don’t build that kind of workplace. Our notions of “professionalism” are steeped in every -ism. Ditch them. Scrap the dress code nonsense and let your employees figure out how they can look and feel their best—and do their best work for you. Parse the respectability politics out of your code of conduct.

We do our best work when we feel safe and supported in the office. Giving your team the space to be authentic and honest fosters loyalty and community across cubicles.

Leverage your platform

Do not be the business owner who sits idly by while kids are being separated from their parents at the border, or women are put behind bars for exercising their constitutional right to make their own reproductive choices. None of us can stay silent, especially if we care about the future of this country and the world.

It can be scary to mix politics with your brand, but in these times especially, it’s critical. Speak up about what matters—on your official social media pages and at your in-person events. Owning a business gives you an amplified voice. Raise it every once in a while.

Partner with causes you support

Corporate social responsibility can have a major impact. Forging brand partnerships with non-profits can raise awareness about critical issues. Donating some of your proceeds to worthy causes can provide pivotal resources to the people doing good work on the ground. So don’t just talk the talk—walk the walk, directly to the post office, and mail some checks.

Salesforce pays its employees to offer some of their time, at no cost, to non-profit organizations. That kind of program signals a firm commitment to social justice—and it provides invaluable support to the movement-makers on the ground who are strapped for cash.

If summer is your slow season, tell your team to take Fridays off to help clean up the beaches or escort outside of a clinic. Next time you’re organizing an office-wide clothing swap, pick a shelter and donate what gets left behind. Encouraging your crew, no matter how big or small, to be involved and engaged in changing the world will empower them—and it’s lots of fun.

Put it in writing

Policies around workplace behavior, formal processes for performance reviews and raises, and concrete guidelines for diversity go far when it comes to ensuring that everyone is on the same page, and it ensures that everybody is treated equitably and fairly in sticky situations and as your business and your team expand.

When Roemer and her wife, Carly Usdin, co-founded Scheme Machine with the goal of bringing new perspectives and stories to the fore in media, they wrote an inclusion policy to ensure they achieved it. The difference that emerged from it was tangible.

Put your policies and practices on paper from the get-go. You’ll clarify your own vision for what your ideal workplace looks like—and become even more clear about the values that led you there in the first place.