Ask Steph is a monthly column where I answer all of your tricky business questions! Get ready to tackle everything from setting up better software & systems, to making space for reflection, to planning out your business launch, to establishing better boundaries with your clients. Have a question for me? Ask away, right here. See archives here.
How do I bring my values into my business?
My heart has been so heavy with the news lately. As a human being first, business owner second, I am deeply affected by the tragedies we are witnessing play out locally and globally, especially when it comes to racial discrimination. Within the context of my business, I struggle to figure out how to show up in order to lend my support to the causes I believe in. I’m also afraid of “doing it wrong”, so sometimes I stay silent. When it comes to social justice issues, specifically racial justice, how can I contribute meaningfully and not just take up space? How can I help to create real change? Re-sharing Instagram posts to my stories just doesn’t feel like enough.
Striving for Social Justice
We start by doing the work on ourselves.
Right up top, I want to say that I do not do this perfectly in my business or life. I am not an expert. I am also very privileged: I am white, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied, and grew up in an upper-middle-class household.
On this topic, I am not necessarily the one you should be learning from. In this blog post, I’ll be pointing you towards a lot of Black, Indigenous & People of Colour (BIPOC) educators and resources they’ve created, all of which are important starting places in this lifelong journey of education and change.
That said, in this post I want to use my privilege to amplify the voices of BIPOC and take on some of the emotional labour they are often asked to perform. I see a lot of business owners struggling with the question above, so I want to answer it as best as I can from my perspective, but I always welcome feedback in the comments below or privately by email.
Based on the question, I’ll be answering primarily about how we can fight racial discrimination and white supremacy in the context of our businesses. I’ll also share some examples for how to tackle other forms of oppression, such as discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.
Without further ado, here are four ways that we can bring more of our social justice values into our businesses!
1. Educate Yourself, Consistently
I strongly believe that our personal development as humans ALWAYS has an impact on our businesses. When you are actively working to learn more and improve yourself, the difference can be felt palpably by others, whether they can see you doing that work or not.
This is true if you’re working to learn more about climate change and how to reduce your environmental impact, or if you’re unlearning a lifetime of internalized misogyny and gender discrimination. It’s especially true when it comes to racial justice. Learning more about white supremacy, institutional oppression and your own internalized racism inevitably starts to change the way you speak and the decisions you make on a daily basis.
As you learn more about the power of words and the historical legacy of racism, you start to become more aware of how your actions have an impact on others. Put simply, when your mind changes, your business changes. With greater awareness, your business can become a safer space for BIPOC and other marginalized folks.
This education is not always pretty or easy, and it’s not always visible. That’s okay. You don’t need to “get credit” for doing this work, you just need to do it. The work can look like reading books, doing your own reflective writing, listening to podcasts, watching documentaries, following accounts, having conversations, or researching new words you don’t understand.
When it comes to racial justice specifically, here are some resources that might be a good place to start. I also encourage you to seek out more!
- Me & White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad: This is an interactive reflective workbook based on a 28 day challenge to help people confront their inner white supremacy. It is not easy to complete the exercises, but it’s important work and will teach you a lot about racial justice.
- The Person You Mean To Be by Dolly Chugh: An incredible book about how to confront and tackle all kinds of bias both in yourself and in the world. If you’re new to the social justice world, this would be a great place to start.
- Still Processing: A podcast about pop culture, analyzed through the lens of social justice and systems of oppression.
- 13th: A powerful, eye-opening documentary about the realities of the criminal justice system and how it systematically discriminates against BIPOC.
- Tangible Ways for White People to Combat White Supremacy: A Google Doc full of crowd-sourced, actionable resources & suggestions
- Instagram Accounts: Black Lives Matter, Rachel Cargle, Just Ask Jenny, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, The Conscious Kid
- Other ideas: Fill out journal prompts, analyze your own reading habits, subscribe to diverse media sources
2. Don’t Be Performative
Combatting social justice issues is going to take a whole lot more from us than just posting something publicly online. When it comes to problems like gender discrimination, economic inequality, racism, or climate change, it’s not about merely sharing an Instagram post to your stories or retweeting an article. It’s not about getting outraged and writing or talking all about your own personal feelings. It’s not about writing a bunch of exclamation-point-filled comments underneath important posts. Some of these things can be supportive, but they are not the real work.
More often than not, it is our private actions that matter more than our public ones. The goal is not to be a performative or optical ally. The goal is to be an actual ally and advocate for real change. That means not simply reacting by posting something online as soon as you see your friends or colleagues showing up in a certain way. It means pausing, reflecting, educating yourself, and choosing to take tangible actions that feel aligned with your values.
No matter what social justice issue we’re facing, here are some examples of ways we can show up in tangible, non-performative ways:
- Donate money to organizations doing important work (suggestions here)
- Pay marginalized people for their expertise and emotional labour
- Sign petitions (here are a few relevant ones: 1, 2, 3)
- Contact your government representatives
- Have hard conversations with your family and friends
- Speak up when you see or hear something discriminatory or wrong
3. Make Structural Changes
There are lots of ways that you can build your values right into the structure of your business and offerings. A lot of this will stem from Step 1! As you start to have a deeper understanding of the disparities between marginalized people’s lived experiences and access to resources, new solutions and ideas will unfold about how your business can be set up to help bridge that gap. Depending on the kind of business you have, the solutions you come up with might look different than the ones listed below. But here are a few ideas for where you could start:
- Offer PWYC or sliding scale options: This is something that I’ve implemented in my Productivity Party offering and am planning to roll out across my business. Most software programs make it easy to set up an honour-system-based process that people can opt into or out of based on need.
- Create a scholarship or pro-bono program: Consider having a formal process established for specific people to access your products or services for free. One example is how my friend Deanne does it here.
- Work with BIPOC: Consider hiring BIPOC to help you with your business. Find contractors to support various elements of your business such as photography, social media, graphic design, web design, accounting, etc. Seek out vendors yourself & ask for recommendations from others!
- Donate a percentage of your profits: Find an organization that is meaningful to you, and commit to donating a portion of your sales to the cause. You can also do this on a per-offering basis, for instance for a specific workshop or course offering.
- Seek out diversity consultants: This could mean hiring someone to review your website for inclusive language, as Make Lemonade did before launching. Another example: Free Label has plus-size testers who help consult on fit and comfort of their products for larger bodies.
4. Make Outward Changes
For me, this is the last step for a reason. I believe it matters most what we do quietly, consistently, and diligently. One of my favourite mottos is: “You are who you are when no one is watching,” and I believe that it’s true. That being said, representation and visibility are also important! Sharing your values actively and explicitly is another way to make an impact. There are so many ways to do this, but here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Use your pronouns & ask for them: This can be as simple as adding them to your Instagram bio or email signature! You can also ask for pronouns on your intake forms and questionnaires. It’s a small way of normalizing the use of pronouns and interrupting our cultural assumptions about people’s gender.
- Show diverse representation: Whether this is in the skin colour of the emojis you use, or the photos you choose for your blog posts, it’s important to show diversity. Here’s an explanation as to why that matters! And here’s a resource about finding culturally diverse stock images.
- Don’t co-opt AAVE or drag slang in your marketing: This is something I’m actively working on. A lot of the slang terms we like to use originated in communities of colour or other marginalized spaces such as the drag scene. They become popular and cool, so we tend to want to use them too! This is a great article that explains why that’s problematic.
- Promote & celebrate diversity: If you use quotes in your work, seek out quotes by women and people of colour. (You’d be amazed how hard it is to find inspirational quotes that are not said by white men.) If you recommend businesses, recommend businesses owned by marginalized people. If you have a podcast, try to interview people from diverse backgrounds.
Let’s Do The Work
I get it. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. These are not easy topics to talk about! But part of our work (as humans first, business owners second), is to build the kind of world we want to live in. So it’s important for us to educate ourselves and make changes that matter. Doing it wrong is better than doing nothing! We can always learn, we can always grow, we can always adapt. Best to start somewhere and stay open to evolving as we learn more.
Is building your social justice values into your business something you struggle with? How do you show up and contribute to fighting inequality and discrimination, in your business or in your life? I’d love to know! I’m on this journey too, and am always open to suggestions and ideas for how to improve this work. Let me know in the comments below, or on Instagram @stephpellett.