McNeill

Bethany McNeill recently achieved B Corp status for her business, MB Pension and Benefits Group

The female founders of two B.C. companies that recently gained the prestigious designation share their advice on making the grade

Bethany McNeill does things differently in her industry, and now she has a shiny new credential to prove it.

Last month, McNeill’s MB Pension and Benefits Group became the fourth insurance brokerage in Canada—and the only one entirely owned and operated by women—to win certification as a B Corporation. Bestowed by B Lab, a U.S. nonprofit, the B Corp designation recognizes businesses worldwide for meeting “the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.”

When it comes to social responsibility, MB Benefits, which has offices in North Vancouver and Calgary, focuses on mental health. “The solutions within the insurance industry are very limited, and they’re not grounded in evidence,” founder McNeill says. “How much more mental health coverage can we get for companies, and how much more comprehensive and transparent is the offering? Specifically, we’re looking at how much extra coverage we can get companies at no additional cost.”

McNeill decided to apply for B Corp certification after working on a benefits quote for a company that was among the first in its industry in North America to make the grade. She started looking at other businesses in the select group, which numbers roughly 3,500. (Of the 288 Canadian B Corps as of September, 111 are in Western Canada and 79 in B.C.)

“That’s what really drew me to it, is saying, Wow, there’s companies that take what they’re doing differently on a social innovation level and put it in their legal governing articles,” recalls McNeil, one of our 30 Under 30 winners this year. “You have to build in a level of accountability so that you’re actually following through on that mandate.”

For MB Benefits and its team of seven, obtaining B Corp certification took about eight months. First, the company submitted a questionnaire on which applicants must score at least 80 percent to proceed. Then it waited for an evaluator who zeroed in on certain questions, asking for proof of everything from accountability measures to staff policies to wage levels.

At Vancouver-based digital creative agency All Purpose, another new B Corp., co-founder and director Leena Manro and her colleagues started the application process late last year and received designation in June. All Purpose, which has 40 employees, provides educational content and corporate social responsibility solutions to large corporations. “It was extremely exciting because for us to become a B Corp was very reflective of our own values,” Manro says, citing her company’s name. “We actually endeavour to be a purpose-driven organization.”

Munro

In the application, B Lab gives points for “the different facets of how you work and where you work,” such as gender equality and diversity and inclusion, Manro explains. “They’ll look at the kind of products or services that you provide, and determine to what degree that makes a positive impact on the world, and then assign points accordingly,” she adds. “While you’re qualifying, you’re really looking at your own company with a magnifying glass. You’re able to see where you fall short, maybe, or where you’re doing really well.”

The process can be daunting, Manro warns. “To qualify for B Lab, it’s very rigorous.”

With that in mind, we asked Manro and McNeill for some for some tips on how other companies can improve their odds of winning B Corp certification.

Walk the talk

Manro recommends that businesses ask themselves why they’re applying for B Corp certification. “Are you an ethical company?” she asks. “If you’re a company that’s already striving to do good for the world, then the rest is pretty easy.”

Enlist 2-3 people who know your brand

“The crux of this boils down to how the company defines your social and environmental responsibility,” says McNeill, who worked with MB Benefits’ marketing consultant on the application. “That’s usually in your mission statement, and usually people who have the best understanding of your brand understand that.”

In a handful of meetings before starting the application, McNeill and her brand experts went through the B Corp questionnaire twice. “We did one version where we said, OK, this is based on exactly what we have now, and the second one was, What could we score on this hypothetically if we formalized a few more things?”

Find a meaningful benchmark

“The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are a wonderful place to start,” Manro says. “We care about education and gender equality and making the environment better, and so many of those goals are very much in line with our work.”

Look at the big picture

The first step in the application process, the B Corp impact assessment, asks questions in five areas—corporate governance, workers, customers, community and environment—McNeill notes. “All of the questions map onto each other,” she says. “A lot of them are fundamentally driven by how does the company define your social responsibility, which is in your mission statement, how does the company continue to measure that…and then how does the company hold itself accountable for that?”

Seek mentors and role models

Companies should “look to their heroes,” Manro advises. “Think about your mentors. Think about some of the other companies that already have this designation and what they’re doing right.” She highlights Patagonia: “They’re doing amazing work for the planet and for the environment, and we look to them, for example, for guidance.”

Find a differentiator

While searching the company directory on the B Corp website, McNeill realized that none of the three Canadian insurance brokerages with certification was all-female-owned and -operated. “I was like, Girls, we’re going for this,” she recalls. “That really spurred us to want to get it as well.”

If you’re a progressive business in your industry but haven’t formalized what you do, that’s the easy part, McNeill says. “If you’re a company that doesn’t have that, it’s pretty hard to force yourself to answer those questions.”

Consult your employee handbook or training guide

When McNeill looked through her company’s employee handbook, she found many tie-ins with the B Corp questionnaire. “There were 30 things that were already embedded in there that were actually applicable and got us points on that score.”

Hire an adviser

During the application process, All Purpose worked with Decade, a Vancouver-based firm that offers B Corp advisory services. “They took some of the time-consuming part of it off our shoulders,” Manro explains. “They gathered the information and organized it more for us so we could concentrate on our work.”

Take the time to do it right

McNeill and her team had weekly meetings about the application for at least two months. “I’d say you’d want to look at these questions three or four times before you submit your final answers,” she says. “Doing that over a six- to eight-week time period is not a bad thing.”

Forget about spin

“This is one of those things you can’t put a spin on,” Manro stresses. “What matters is what you’re doing. B Lab will have a number of criteria and questions, and you’re either doing them or you’re not. It doesn’t really matter how you present it.”

Don’t inflate your answers 

“You want to make sure that if the B Corp evaluators were going to call you tomorrow, you would have everything ready to go and you could articulate on everything you said yes to,” McNeill says. By the time it gets to your evaluator, you want to be able to submit answers that are very detailed, very thorough and very concise.”

Don’t get discouraged 

“If you’re not able to get certified the first time you try, my suggestion would be to take back that feedback and focus on the areas where you can improve,” Manro says. “The goal is to be a company that does good for the world,” she adds. “In my mind, that’s actually the more important goal, and them becoming a B Corp is a wonderful side effect.”