How to be a socially conscious business owner
1. Embed Empathy Through All Levels Of Your Business
Being socially conscious as a business owner is about so much more than rounding up your team for a day of volunteering or marching (as wonderful as those initiatives are!). Running a business while being cognizant of its social impact is a daily practice. It's not easy, but it's rewarding -- both in terms of personal fulfillment and business performance.
Embedding empathy into your company culture is a good place to start. What does that look like? Belinda Parmar, CEO of the The Empathy Business, recommends implementing empathy nudges: high-impact, low-cost changes that include everything from changing customer services scripts to reconsidering employee titles to giving junior employees more voice time in meetings.
Enhancing your company culture is reason enough to focus more on empathy, but Parmar's research has also revealed that "empathy correlates with [business] performance." After conducting an empathy index that measured indicators ranging from the diversity of board seats to CO2 emissions, Parmar found that the top 10 most empathetic companies outperformed the bottom 10 by up to 50%. That trend held true for every performance metric included: growth, productivity, and earnings.
2. Unpack Your Unconscious Bias
Unconscious bias refers to “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness.” We can all fall prey to unconscious bias, especially when it comes time to consider new job applicants for important positions.
Case in point: Multiple studies have shown that job-seeking women find themselves at a non-sensical disadvantage simply for having a female name. John and Jennifer can have identical resumes, but Jennifer will still receive lower ratings from employers and lower average salary offers. That's been proven.
The good news is that unconscious bias is malleable. Behavioral scientist H. Anna Han has shown that being aware of your bias and wanting to change are the first steps to overcoming any long-held, subtle beliefs about a particular group of people.
She recommends that instead of imagining your ideal candidate when you start hiring (who will probably look like all your other employees), you visualize building a team of diverse members.
“I’m not telling you to lower your expectations but broaden them,” Han told the room during a 2017 event at Georgetown School of Medicine. This will help ensure that you don't dismiss highly qualified candidates simply because they don't look like they'd "fit in" with the rest of your team.
3. Conduct A Salary Audit
If you're looking for a quantifiable way to ensure equality in your business, consider starting your own salary transparency initiative.
Last year I worked with a small services business to do the same, and it was illuminating for everyone involved. Reviewing their employee compensation head-on (and in comparison to packages offered by similar companies), the firm was able to ask point-blank whether it was paying all genders and ethnicities a fair amount. By conducting a salary audit early in its lifespan, my clients were able to stand behind their claims that they offered women a great place to work.
Too few companies do the same. Employee salaries so often fall under a code of silence that shining light on pay disparities can feel invasive. I think fairness is justification enough to put any hesitations about salary audits aside, but the fact of that matter is that unequal pay is also a company liability. Remember how Google became the butt of lawsuits and dozens of angry articles after the Department of Labor discovered the company's "systemic compensation disparities against women?"
Even though government contractors and corporate behemoths are most likely to face backlash here, the wage gap is just as insidious for small businesses. All it takes is one word-of-mouth story about unequal pay to discourage high-quality women from becoming employees or even customers. Instead of turning a blind eye, you have the opportunity to discover and correct your company's inequalities as they emerge. Take it.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.