Why I Turned My Business into a Benefit Corporation
We hear a lot in the news about corporate greed — corporations have a responsibility to maximize profits for shareholders over all else, leading to cost-cutting measures that hurt employees, communities, and the environment. But there’s a movement building across the U.S. that believes if corporations are people too, then they should have a soul.
When my co-founder (and husband), Kyle Herzog, and I started WhiteHat Magazine, we didn’t want to build a company just to turn around and sell at a huge profit. We wanted to build something that had an impact, by building our community and telling untold stories. WhiteHat Magazine was initially launched under parent company Jabir Publications LLC, but over the past year, we have realized that this structure was not the right fit for our vision. So we are very excited to announce that Fibonacci Media Co. is now the home of WhiteHat Magazine, Bosses Who Brunch, and all of our future platforms and products. In this restructuring, we took the opportunity to make a change I have wanted for this company for a while now —we registered Fibonacci Media Co. as a Utah Benefit Corporation.
Benefit Corporations are for-profit businesses that incorporate their impact on people, the planet, as well as profit in their corporate decision making. This is different from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, which are often considered an extension of marketing departments or employee retention programs. For Benefit Corporations, success is measured not only in profits returned to shareholders, but also in the impact the business had on the community and the environment.
So far, 26 states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws creating Benefit Corporations as an option for companies that want to embrace triple bottom line principles. Some of your favorite brands — like Kickstarter, King Arthur Flour, Patagonia, Cotopaxi, and This American Life — have already chosen to be Benefit Corporations. There aren’t great numbers on how many companies in Utah that have embraced this corporate structure yet (we’re working on a report about this and would love to hear from you if your company is a benefit corporation!), but we believe we are among the first 50 companies in Utah to register as a Benefit Corporation.
Since the beginning, our vision for WhiteHat Magazine has been a media organization that highlights voices in science, technology, and innovation that are usually left out of the conversation. With Fibonacci Media Co., we plan to pursue that vision in a way that not only builds our business, but also allows us to give back in an accountable and measurable way to our community.
In the newsroom
Media platforms make far-reaching decisions every day about which groups to empower and amplify through their coverage — which stories they choose to cover and which they choose to pass up. And yet, at the same time it has become easier than ever before to access a broad range of media options, these decisions are being made by a media workforce that is staggeringly unrepresentative.
According to the 2015 Status of Women in U.S. Media report by the Women’s Media Center, “By a nearly 3 to 1 margin, male front-page bylines at top newspapers outnumbered female bylines in coverage of the 2012 presidential election. Men were also far more likely to be quoted than women in newspapers, television and public radio. […] As newspaper employment continues to tumble, so does the number of women in key jobs. Newer, online-only news sites have fallen into the same rut as legacy media. Male bylines outnumbered female bylines at four of six sites reviewed.”
Statistics for minorities in U.S media are even more dismal. According to the American Society of News Editors, the percentage of journalists of color in newsrooms has hovered between 12 and 14 percent for the last decade. In 2016, “minorities comprised about 17 percent of employees at daily newspapers and 23 percent at online-only sites […] the average newsroom workforce at all 737 legacy and digital sites was about 11 percent minority.” In a 2014 study, the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that only 25 percent of African-Americans and 33 percent of Hispanics said they felt the media accurately reflected their community.
Intersectional diversity can be even more difficult to find reflected in tech journalism. Diversity initiatives in tech almost always center around white women; people of color, especially women, are left out of discussions about building leadership skills and culture. “Brogramming” culture is criticized for negatively affecting women in tech, but the toxic influence it can have on LGBT co-workers is left out of the conversation. What these examples illustrate is that innovators and thinkers who could be role models are instead invisible, left out of the conversation in how to address diversity issues that affect them.
The lack of diversity in journalism affects the stories covered as well as the direction stories can take. As a Benefit Corporation, we are choosing to take an extra step in our coverage by analyzing what voices we amplify and which issues we focus on. So as part of our annual impact report, we will include a section quantifying the diversity breakdown of our writers and the sources we interview, as well as a section graphing the breakdown of topics our articles focus on.
In our community
The diversity gaps in technology and science, as well as for entrepreneurs who are raising money or venture capital have been widely discussed, but addressing these persistent inequalities won’t be an overnight process or something we can leave to “someone else” to work on. We believe our platform gives us a opportunity to have an impact. In fact, we have since the very beginning of the idea for WhiteHat Magazine: in 2014 and 2015, before launching our crowdfunding campaign or our first edition, we held two Women in STEM Summits targeting young women early in the STEM pipeline to show them career options and to connect them with mentors.
A recent step toward this impact is the launch of our Bosses Who Brunch podcast and event series. Since I started working on WhiteHat Magazine full time, I’ve realized what a lonely and difficult road entrepreneurship can be, especially for women; and I’ve realized just how much I didn’t know I don’t know about building a company. So we launched this program to move beyond the myth that entrepreneurship is glossy magazine covers, and to build an inclusive startup community where entrepreneurs can learn from each other. We held three Bosses Who Brunch events this year in Utah, focusing on building community, structuring partnerships, and moving past failures; in 2017, we plan to expand the program into workshops on writing business plans, launching crowdfunding campaigns, and more. To keep up to date on those events, you can join the Bosses Who Brunch Facebook group; or you can listen to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and Soundcloud.
But we can’t solve these issues in our community alone. Another way we have sought to make an impact is through volunteering and partnerships with organizations in Utah that are working to empower diverse groups in science, technology, and entrepreneurship. In 2016, we volunteered our time and ad space for the Utah STEM Action Center’s STEM Fest, and partnered with the Women Tech Council to create a video discussing the impact of empowering Utah’s women in tech. We have also volunteered time and ad space for Womenpreneurs, and I joined their Executive Committee this summer.
Finally, we are taking a global perspective in addressing the issue of raising money. We’re exploring future programs — including a fellowship program and a social entrepreneurship pitch competition — that would support promising entrepreneurs with access to mentors and capital. (If you want to help us with these programs, drop us a line!) In the meantime, we have started a WhiteHat Magazine Kiva Lending Team, where each month we’ll feature an entrepreneur looking to raise money. Our first loan went to support FlyTechnista, “a platform to help bridge the gap between women & girls and access to education resources and career & entrepreneurship opportunities in technology.” I hope you’ll join our team on Kiva and help us find and support entrepreneurs from all across the globe.
Guy Kawasaki, author and Chief Evangelist at Canva, said, “Great companies start because the founders want to change the world… not make a fast buck.”
I like to joke that if I had wanted to be rich, I wouldn’t have gone into journalism. But the truth is that journalism continues to go through an era of upheaval as media organizations try to find a new, sustainable business model. Fibonacci Media Co. and WhiteHat Magazine are no exception. We like to think we have some ideas that will break through, and that we can build a globally-reaching company that is a profitable blend of technology innovation and journalistic excellence.
But we also believe that no matter what business model ends up working best in an age of proliferate digital content, we cannot be successful if we don’t play a role in building and empowering our community as well. Our new status as a benefit corporation ensures that we keep that vision at the core of everything we do.