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A Socially Conscious Workplace

7 Tips to Build a More Socially Conscious Workplace

Social justice, environmental justice, human rights, ethical production; all of these are inextricably intertwined with one another. Moreover, they aren’t some goal to be reached; they’re a process, a continual journey of improvement and refinement. No one is perfect. Everyone can hold bias or preconceived notions that they’ve simply never challenged.

One of the difficulties in current social discourse is the idea of perfection. All too often, whenever any gap is discovered between some ideal perfect stance and the reality or the opinions you hold, the answer is ostracism. And, sure, sometimes it’s warranted. There are some opinions and perspectives that are simply untrue and damaging to hold. Other times, though, you may not know or see the harm that is done, degrees removed from your personal impact, the impact of your workplace, or the impact of your products.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to strive to improve. Whether it means adjusting and adapting your personal perspectives, building better and stronger foundations in ethics and human rights for your business, or contributing to the knowledge and efforts of the oppressed to succeed, there’s always room for betterment.

It’s impossible to distill all of the human rights and all of the nuances of running a business and how they intersect in a single blog post. In fact, you could dedicate a lifetime to it and still not fully explore the subject. Still, we’ll do our best to outline some of the more tangible, beneficial, and useful tips we know to help build a more socially conscious and equitable workplace.

1: Determine Your Core Values

Some people approach business as little more than a way to develop products and sell them to make money. Others build a business so they can use their money and influence to make a difference in the world or support a cause they believe in. These two approaches often clash, and the difference in ideals can be a significant roadblock depending on your employees.

If you’re an idealist and want to use your business to make a difference, or if you’re taking over a leadership position and want to guide a business in that direction, the first thing you need to do is establish your core values.

An Inspired Team

Consider questions such as:

  • What inspires you to develop your products?
  • Who do you hope to help with your products?
  • What influence, power, or leverage do you bring to the table?

Through thinking about these kinds of questions, you can develop a set of core values that reflect who you are and what you want to do with your business. These core values can then be reflected throughout your marketing and branding, your outreach, your partnerships, and eventually the good you put out into the world.

Core values are surprisingly important. They guide how you operate and where the lines you draw are. They help you recruit like-minded individuals as employees, and find like-minded businesses for partnerships. Everything flows outward from these values.

So, what does a core values statement look like? It can take many different forms. In fact, here are 90+ different examples from businesses around the world.

2: Extend Values Through Policies

The second step is to establish – or, if your business is already established, reevaluate – your business policies. These are mostly the policies you use to reflect your values throughout your organization.

  • What are your stances on DEI and various social issues?
  • Who is in your management team, and is there adequate representation of varying perspectives?
  • Are there existing policies that, upon reflection, are suppressing communication or discriminatory when viewed objectively?
  • Are there changes you can make to push your business in more eco-friendly directions?
  • Can you adjust your hiring process to be more equitable (such as anonymizing resumes to evaluate candidates based on skill, not attributes?)
  • Are your policies compassionate and accommodating towards mental and physical health challenges in your employees?
  • Is your pay and benefits compensation package adequate for the market and adjusted to keep up with cost of living, inflation, and more?

If you find that you have existing policies that are causing harm, either actively or passively, take steps to change them. If you find that there are cases where harm is being done due to the lack of a policy, create one. If you find that policies that seemed to be equitable are, upon reflection, no longer adequate, change them.

Establishing Business Policies

This is perhaps the biggest challenge in creating a more socially conscious workplace. You may encounter resistance, especially if some of the people who benefit from the way things are currently handled will stand to lose some of their influence or social power in the change. There may be some upheaval, and you may find that certain individuals in your organization need to be removed for the remainder to flourish.

Remember, life-saving surgery starts with a cut.

3: Evaluate Avenues to Tangible Benefit

Your goals aren’t just ideals to consider when they’re incidental. They’re something you strive to create and follow in every aspect of your business. That means making decisions not with profit motive or maximum returns in mind, but with an eye towards the good you can do, or the harm you can minimize.

Evaluating Avenues to Tangible Benefit

To use ourselves as an example, our t-shirts are an easy demonstration. Here at Ethix, we aren’t in the business to make the most money possible. We’re here to help make the world a better place. Our shirts are sourced from local manufacturers, who in turn source their fabric from local producers, who make that fabric from locally, ethically, and sustainably-grown cotton. Every step of the process, from the farm to the printing, is handled in the most ethical and sustainable process we can find.

We do this because it suits our core values. Sure, we could order shirts by the thousand from China or Vietnam for much cheaper than we get these, but if we did, we’d be exploiting labor, failing to pay our fair share to contribute to the livelihoods of the people involved, and contributing to pollution and climate change by further supporting dirty international shipping. That goes against our core values.

That’s just an example, of course. Whatever products or services your company makes, strive to do it in a way that suits your core values. Maybe you don’t have many ways to angle your production in greener or more sustainable ways. There’s always some way you can do good through doing business, and that’s what you’re striving to find.

4: Don’t Miss the Trees for the Forest

While the aphorism usually goes the other way, we find that sometimes it inverts when you’re considering socially conscious business. You’re focused on fighting human exploitation, optimizing your business for green and sustainable operations, and promoting diversity and inclusion throughout your operations… and you forget the little harm and microaggressions that can happen as a simple matter, of course.

Even something as basic as the language you use, the assumptions you make, and the examples you choose to use can all be ways that bias and harm are conveyed. They may not even seem unnatural or harmful! Even something as simple as saying “you guys” to a room of mixed genders can be a form of non-inclusive language.

Healthy Workplace Communication

Make no mistake: this is very difficult. There are quite literally thousands of common turns of phrase that can be harmful or stereotypical, and there’s almost no way anyone can intuit all of them in a way that is both internalized and effective. Just peruse a guide like this one to see what we mean.

On top of all of this, language and standards change. Sometimes, policing everything you say is actually worse. Treating a minority group as an other, even if it’s for the promotion of that group, is still different treatment, and that can be harmful. Even well-meaning people make mistakes.

You won’t be perfect, so don’t try to be. Just try to be as good as you can be and better every day.

5: Build a Culture of Communication

One of the core elements that make a socially conscious business work is communication. You need your employees to be able to talk about and discuss anything they need to with anyone who needs to know. This can be anything from suggestions to improve business, to ways that a policy is unintentionally harmful, to feedback of all kinds. We’re not just talking about performance reviews here.

Building a Culture of Communication

A socially conscious business is often more of a collective than it is a unilateral authoritarian system. Sure, you have your leadership, and they make the decisions and lead as they find appropriate according to your core values. But without followers, what are leaders? Without employees, what is your business?

Listening to feedback, soliciting and accepting criticism, learning how to listen effectively; there a lot to be said about communication, and it can be very important to learn and improve in this area. There are a million different guides to learning to be an effective listener, to accepting feedback, to building communications throughout an organization. Find the ones that resonate most with your values, and adopt them.

6: Invest in People

Your business thrives on your employees, and a big part of making a modern, functional, effective, and socially conscious workplace is accommodating your people.

The coronavirus pandemic was many things, and many of them negative. But one thing it did was show us that there is a lot of room and a lot of leeway for remote and work-from-home employees who can still be effective. And, sure, some people still thrive in an office environment. Others do their best work when they don’t have to spend hours a day commuting. Plus, if you can hire remotely, you can hire more geographically dispersed – and thus more diverse – individuals. Even the increase in perspectives alone can be worthwhile.

A Remote Employee

Consider what makes an employee happy, healthy, and loyal.

  • Good pay and benefits.
  • Flexible work to accommodate their needs.
  • Opportunities for growth.
  • Ways they are valued as individuals.
  • A healthy work-life balance.

Finding the right way to balance all of these factors can be tricky, and it’s often a matter best left to individuals. Don’t be afraid to make changes and accommodations to ensure you have the best people on your side. It’ll be worth it.

7: Turn Your Investments Outwards

Operating in an ethical space doesn’t mean you’re doing all of the possible good you can do. Your business comes first, of course – without your own success, your own pay, your own investment, you can’t very well help others – but what do you do with the excess? All too often, business owners simply turn that investment further into their own portfolios, instead of doing good in the world around them.

Turning Investments Outwards

There are many different ways to do good. It almost doesn’t matter what you pick; everything helps in some way or another. Thus, the easiest route to take is to evaluate your core values again and determine what external ways you can use to “put your money where your mouth is”, so to speak.

Maybe that means investing in other startups that share your values. Maybe that means donating or working with human rights organizations. Maybe it means supporting local funds or more general humanitarian aid. There are options for every possible perspective you could take.

The key is to do something, whatever that something may be.

Doing Better to Better the World

Normally, this is the part where a business blog shills its own products to convince you it’s the way to go. And, sure, we can do that. Our store link is just up there, and you can browse all the products you want. And maybe switching from some outsourced, exploitative, and unsustainable source to a more ethical source is a good idea. But that’s not really why we’re here. It’s not like you’re going to solve global exploitation by switching to our store.

A Business Switching to an Ethical Source

But that’s just the thing, isn’t it? It’s not about grand gestures. It’s about making small changes, taking little wins, and making investments where it counts. Every little bit helps. And, if we can be part of that little bit, we’d be more than happy to help.