Are B Corporations better places to work?

B Corps are well known for their social and environmental credentials, but the qualification process also assesses their employment practices. Do they treat their people better than the average firm?

illustration about whether B corps are good places to work

Life as an employee of First Wealth has become a whole lot better since the financial services firm became a B Corporation in 2020. 

In pursuit of the certification, the London-based company upped its wellbeing game significantly. Two months’ equal parental leave on full pay atop a new-baby bonus, childcare subsidies, menopause support and a monthly wellness stipend are just a few of the benefits it added. It has since achieved an employee engagement score of 80%, compared with 67% before it qualified.

First Wealth’s people operations director, Kerry Burgess, joined the firm seven years ago as a practice manager. She recalls that the decision to pursue B Corp status represented “a complete starting point for us. We reviewed every area of our business, asking ourselves: ‘Are we doing enough for the environment, our clients and our employees?’ This process has had a big effect on the whole organisation.”

B Corps are perhaps best known for their positive contributions to the environment and society. But the so-called B impact assessment, a key element of the qualification process, includes workers as a key stakeholder group alongside customers, the community and the environment. The workers component of the assessment covers a firm’s contribution to its employees’ health and safety, financial security, career development, engagement and satisfaction. 

“Some initiatives that B Corps have introduced to support their workers include flexible working hours, extended parental leave and healthcare coverage,” notes Tom Ebbutt, director of impact at the awarding body, B Lab UK.

The impact assessment also recognises employers that have adopted organisational structures and initiatives that are specifically designed to benefit workers. These include companies that are at least 40% owned by non-directors and firms that use development programmes to support people facing high barriers to employment.

Ebbutt cites employee-owned schoolwear provider One+All and ready-meal brand Cook, which actively seeks ex-offenders to hire and train, as B Corps exhibiting such characteristics.

How B Corp certification affects employee engagement

Are B Corporations actually better places to work than the average company? B Lab UK’s data suggests that they are. Small and medium-sized B Corps lead their non-certified counterparts in this country on a range of employee-related measures. For instance, their median staff attrition rate is 8%, compared with about 18% across all businesses. The average gender pay gap among B Corps is 4%, compared with 15% for the average employer. And 84% of B Corp leadership teams include at least one woman, compared with 55% across all SMEs. 

“Certification offers a unique opportunity to enhance overall employee engagement by providing a clear company identity while fostering an engaging work environment. This can give you a competitive edge in talent acquisition and retention,” says Ebbutt, who adds that a firm can build on this by teaching its staff about the values underlying its certification, encouraging them to become “B Corp evangelists”. 

On a more practical level, the enlightened employment policies that B Corps commonly operate – flexible working, for instance – are also making a difference. Research by employee engagement platform Culture Amp has found that 88% of B Corp employees feel that they can secure time off work whenever they need to, versus 85% of all others. What’s more, with about 90% of B Corp staff reporting that they feel “genuinely supported” in making flexible working arrangements, it seems that the vast majority of certified firms have a culture that doesn’t make people feel guilty for using such options.

Culture Amp’s lead people scientist, Charlotte Mosley, reports that B Corp employees are “more satisfied when it comes to feeling able to do their jobs. They feel greater support for their career aspirations than average from their managers and they’re generally more positive about their leadership teams. All these things can drive greater engagement and a more fulfilling employee experience.” 

Could do better on diversity and inclusivity

Once an employer has gained certification, it should not assume that it has ticked all the boxes and doesn’t need to keep improving. Indeed, while many B Corps have clearly made great efforts to improve the employee experience they offer, this hasn’t translated into advances on the diversity front. Culture Amp’s data reveals that staff at B Corps are relatively unimpressed with the progress their employers are making in this area: 57% believe that their firms are building diverse teams, compared with 64% of employees in all companies. B Corp employees are also less likely than average to feel that people from any background, however disadvantaged, can succeed in their organisations (71% versus 76%). 

“It may be that, with B Corps putting so much emphasis on accountability and transparency, they’ve been neglecting this crucial component of building a truly inclusive culture and helping everyone feel that they belong,” Mosley suggests.

It’s an area high on First Wealth’s agenda, especially given that the financial services sector has an average gender pay gap of 25%. The firm’s leadership team already has equal numbers of men and women, but it feels that its policies on parental leave, flexible working and menopause support will further improve diversity and inclusivity. It also runs a paid internship programme to attract more people from groups under-represented in its sector.

“We’re looking at how to get in front of more diverse audiences and at how we can have equal numbers of female and male financial planners,” Burgess says. “Then, at the other end, it’s a question of how to keep people in the business. For instance, we’ve been considering what more we can do to look after women when they start experiencing menopausal symptoms.”

B Lab UK is acutely aware that a significant number of B Corps have made disappointing progress in the inclusivity stakes so far. Indeed, it has formed an equitable growth advisory group to help organisations in the movement become more representative of British society.

The group – comprising nine female entrepreneurs and senior executives from a range of backgrounds – was convened in January by B Lab UK’s engagement manager, Joanna Adjetey De Palma, and its head of growth, Annie Olivier. In an earlier joint blog post revealing their plans, they wrote: “We’re now in a position to continue growing in a more purposeful way by asking ourselves: ‘Who is missing from our community?’”