Establishing a framework for decision-making isn’t meant to put you in a straightjacket; it’s intended to help you stay focused on the purpose that you’ve set for yourself — to create a successful business. Most of the time, there are alternative solutions to problems; the challenge of choosing the right one will force you to dig deep into your goals, motivations and values.
A decision-making framework guides your response to problems and solutions. It’s how you live the values that you determine are important to you, your business and even your product; and it ensures that those you do business with adhere to these same values. You will need to constantly test decisions against the values you want expressed by your business. It may sound like a lot of work, but we do some of this naturally all the time. Our values guide us instinctively.
What if your only goal is to maximize profits?
All businesses need to make money, but having that as your singular purpose would guide your decision-making framework. You would pay the lowest wages possible and rent the least expensive space you could find, regardless of its comfort for employees. You would escalate pricing and source the least expensive materials available, regardless of their impact on the environment. You would locate your business in the least expensive jurisdiction available. Indeed, you would make all your decisions to ensure one thing only: the best profit margin. Your employees and the quality of your product would be secondary to making money. You would not think about your clients and suppliers as partners, nor consider how your business impacted their business or your community. For most of us, this is an extreme example.
What does a sustainable business decision-making framework look like?
LiisBeth founder Petra Kassun-Mutch launched the first Platinum Leed certified dairy in Canada in 2008, to produce award-winning, cave-aged cheese. Petra decided her company — Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Ontario’s Prince Edward County — would not only make excellent cheese but also be a sustainable business, applying a sustainability lens to every aspect. She aligned her personal values with her business goals in her framework for decision-making, and those guided her every step of the way.
Petra partnered with all of her suppliers, learning enough about the business of supplying goat or sheep milk to understand what she could and could not ask of her suppliers. She understood the seasonality of milk production, how farmers built up supply and what it meant if their milk wasn’t purchased. She didn’t ask farmers to do things that would hurt their business for the benefit of her own.
She not only made the manufacturing process sustainable, she also sourced sustainable, organic, raw product, and extended that to elements not obvious to clients and consumers such as the cotton in staff uniforms (organic and sourced through fair trade suppliers); and the packaging, wrapping paper and containers (organic inks and labels adhered with environmentally safe glue). For every aspect of the business, Petra considered and found the environmentally sustainable solution.
What was the impact of her approach? Fifth Town became the number one destination for tourists in Prince Edward County. In its first full year of business, sales hit $1.2 million. People loved the cheese, but they also travelled to experience the entire operation and environmental commitment that Petra had made.
There was a time when sustainability in business was a fringe concept, dismissed as unnecessary or unaffordable. That’s no longer the case, but Petra was ahead of the curve, and she had to keep herself on track, as there was no established path to follow. Creating a decision-making framework ensured everyone who worked with her knew the direction they were going and that taking shortcuts was not acceptable.
Can Feminism be a decision-making framework?
If we recognize that there is now greater comfort in embracing sustainable business practices, what can we extrapolate about embracing equity in the workplace as a decision-making framework? Is it just a matter of time until businesses realize the need for it? Would avoiding the misunderstood and maligned term “feminism” help more businesses adopt the framework for decision-making that could help them achieve more equitable workplaces?
There is no question that feminism is a more difficult decision-making framework to develop and apply, as it’s not simply a matter of sourcing different glue for labels. In fact, it is the glue. It will advance cohesion in the workplace and ensure the greatest contribution by everyone to your business and the economy. Why that isn’t the primary goal of all business, especially those that want to maximize profits, is confusing. Happy employees are the best employees. Happiness comes from having some autonomy in your work, being respected, treated equitably and seeing that the people around you are respected and doing work that is meaningful.
So why is there resistance to even talking about feminism? Perhaps it’s because people think of feminism as an ideology. But wasn’t environmentalism once considered an ideology? Today it’s understood as a practice. Would it really be that difficult for principles of equity to become universal practice? Perhaps there are other barriers to change that we’re not willing to call out. For example, feminism politicizes the process of gender analysis, and politics has yet to become a comfortable and inclusive domain for women.
Plus, applying an expressly feminist lens to your thinking makes you think harder about everything. Next time you make a decision, ask yourself if that decision impacts women differently than men? Is the price of the haircut in your salon higher for women than for men, for a similar cut? Is the cost of a massage the same? Is the cost of tailoring the same for a woman’s jacket as for a man’s? In fact, are alterations included in the price of a suit, as they typically are for a man’s and rarely for a woman’s? Are dry cleaning costs the same?
These are obvious consumer-based examples, but considering them will lead you to more difficult issues, such as pay equity, access to advancement, and mentoring, to name some of the most obvious that we need to discuss openly. Is the government supporting economic development practices that ensure women and men have equal access to capital, for example? Are government programs designed to advance the types of business that attract a higher percentage of men? If so, why? And what can be done to provide equitable support to the business initiatives of women? What’s driving the decisions that lead to inequity?
Learn to question assumptions. In this era of hi-tech, certain kinds of businesses are privileged as being more scalable and global and therefore more valuable. In that environment, how would a disposable diaper be viewed today or maybe a new girdle for women? Spanx, anyone?
Once you’ve put a framework for decision making into place, you’ll discover yourself using it for all sorts of things beyond business. I warn you, though, that will open your eyes to social, economic and political patterns that you probably won’t like. But as a citizen, you’ll then want to push others — government, organizations, and families — to develop an equity decision-making framework too.