Boss Babes, And The Power of The Double-Bottom Line
Don’t get me wrong — as a business major, I understand that the purpose of a business is to make money for its owners. It’s not to be charitable to customers, or supportive to employees, or make any incredible impact on the community around it. It’s to make a profit for the person running it, so they can keep a roof over their heads and put food on their tables. It’s a job, for which they are being paid, just as much as if they were sitting at a desk, or standing at a stove, working for the man. As a business owner, profit must come first, or you are doomed.
I get that. That is step one. It’s the first principle about business management and entrepreneurship you learn, when you start studying it seriously, whether as a major in college or in preparation to take the leap for yourself.
I study general business management at a local tech school, and I’ve noticed something interesting and very powerful about the texts I’ve studied recently. Interestingly, this trend began with a short passage in a macroeconomics text — of all places! — and went on to pop up more and more frequently as I delved deeper into management skills. Management skills for the modern world, I should probably clarify.
More and more frequently, my texts talk about something called the double bottom line. Your bottom line is your profits for the year, obviously. The cold hard cash in crunchable numbers at the end of the day, written in black ink and impossible to ignore. The double bottom line is, in my opinion, something just as telling: it’s how you are using those profits to improve the community which sustains the business, and by extension, how happy you are as a business owner.
I get really excited about the fact that this part of running a business is being so widely recognized. I don’t know if previous editions of these texts discuss it to this extent (if you’re going to scam people deeper into student debt by releasing new editions ever few months, they had better have something of substance about them, and I’ll leave it at that). But the simple fact is that our country and its economy are changing rapidly, along with the way people start and run businesses, and much of it is now being driven by not just a single bottom line at the end of the year, but a second one over a lifetime.
There’s something more than just the bottom line driving modern entrepreneurs. There’s more than just making and selling a product to make money and calling it day. Heck, its even more than just a desire to call your own shots instead of working for the man. Entrepreneurship is where the money is right now, and in my opinion, there’s one great overarching theme behind that.
That theme is compassion.
More than stern, sad financial motivation, I see a strong social motivation in startups by my peers. I see young people assessing their (honestly doubtful) circumstances, and what has led them there, and not just thinking of how to change them for themselves — but wanting to actively help others in similar circumstances with fewer resources rise above. I see people who have incredible ideas that will certainly make a lot of money, given the wants and needs of this nation at this moment in time, who would perhaps be foolish not to take the plunge; more than that, I see them also considering the impact their new enterprise could have on everyone around them. How they can actively encourage their employees, and make it easier for them to produce good work. How they can help improve the lives of their customers through better technology and service, and honest consideration of real-time feedback. How they will eventually be able to give back not just to their immediate community, but the global community in the form of funds, college grants, and accessible technology that can open doors that would otherwise remained locked forever.
I see a generation of young people unfairly burdened with a feverishly spinning world, crippled by a bill of financial goods left by well-meaning grandparents and great-grandparents, but unwilling to serve only themselves in the face of that fate. We are a generation of vast inclusion, of a far deeper love than people would like to acknowledge, of opportunities for an ever-increasing network of human beings with unique challenges. We don’t want to hoard our precious successes — we go out of our way to share it. We don’t just want to survive, to get by to the next day — we want to thrive, and we would rather do it together than on a case-by-case basis.
I think its interesting that some grown people I’ve mentioned it to find it almost… Suspect, I think is the right word. I dislike it that at the mere mention of this double bottom line, some have even proverbially patted me on the head and said things like, “A businesses doesn’t exist to be charitable, you know, it exists to make money,” or, “the bottom line has to come first, and that’s just the way it is,” and other things like that. As if I had told them my plan was to charge pennies for goods so everyone could afford them, and pay a minimum of $40 an hour, and throw my profits into the streets for the homeless to catch. As if I had implied my purpose for being in business was to be nice to everyone, surrounded by daisies and rainbows and smiling sunshine, thinking that my niceness will make everything easy.
I think they think I’m sipping the Kool-Aid that socialism, because they assume that’s what all millennials are doing.
I find that disingenuous, frankly. I also find it terribly sad that working the ways you will do good to others into your business plan is such an aside to the old guard, that focusing on it for more than a few minutes, let alone with so much excitement, is seen as naive and ignorant. They sound almost like a clunky old steam engine that way — its about the money, the money, the money — unaware that there are safer, cleaner, less expensive ways to power a train that won’t ruin the only planet we can live on, these days.
But they grew up with coal-powered engines, and it was good enough for them, so darned if it shouldn’t be good enough for us. Unwilling and afraid to suppose there is a better way, people try to drag you down back into the primordial muck. They have a thousand reasons why you can’t do the thing; but I’ve found they don’t mention the reasons why you shouldn’t. All they have is scare tactics, big words and hyperbole in their back pockets to frighten you into not complicating or changing the world they’ve known for so long. They don’t want to discuss the pros and cons, the ups and downs, the opportunities and risks, and all the wondrous possibilities. They just want you to sit still and be quiet, because in their minds, you are still a child. A real adult would own a home and a nice car, because a real adult would be making a living wage, not a minimum wage. A real adult would be married at least once by now, with children to not bother raising. A real adult wouldn’t be desperate enough to break out of the death spiral and start something brand new for themselves, because they’d be too busy keeping their head down.
(Yikes. I’ll stop ranting about angry old people now. Most that I know are kind and loving people who, though I baffle them with my plans and hopes and dreams from time to time, have promised to always love, cherish, and support me in my endeavors, no matter how strange they may seem. They’ve made it clear that they are on my side, and they believe in me, and I value that more than gold. But I’m extremely lucky. I know that so many of my peers are not as blessed in the elder department as I have been.)
Anyway, all of this made me wonder excitedly, when did your spiritual and emotional profit become just as important as your financial profit? It clearly meant very little, even a few decades ago; and now it drives so much of what small businesses are doing, whether modern entrepreneurs know the words for it or not. When did that change? Why did that change?
If I may be so blunt, I believe it is the ever increasing freedom of women in this country that has made it possible. A woman on her own can do just about anything she wants to in America. We enjoy the freedom to begin and terminate anything we wish on our own terms, with most of the old barriers diminishing or gone completely. Most women alive on this planet cannot say that, and most of their daughters will not be able to, either. We have the privilege and honor now to actively shape and change our nation through trade and business, as women haven’t enjoyed so fully since ancient Egypt — the last era where a lone woman had legal power over her own life, without a male relative to vouch for her.
That was a long time ago. Take a minute to let that sink in.
But women tend to circle the herd on a level playing field, pulling together for safety and strength, with the compromised shielded safely in the center. Women don’t stack individuals in a ladder, or a totem pole, judging their importance by how tall they are — because when that happens, you know that we will always be trapped on the next-to-last rung of that ladder, one step up from the dog, if only because the dog walks on four legs, not two. Poor dog…
Second-to-last breeds contempt… But it also breeds compassion. We have tasted that injustice, and it is bitter; we don’t want to inflict it on others. We want to pull together and care for one another. Then, instead of battling over who gets to sit in the biggest chair and wear the biggest crown and wield the biggest sword, shit actually gets done. Our children have good food, warm clothes, and well-paid teachers. Our crops thrive. Our streets are clean and safe. Our homes are made not just sturdy, but beautiful.
With compassion, with the uplifting of others through whatever resources we have — including those that come with running a business — everyone in the community can focus on doing what they do best. And then they start businesses that run well, and they employee people who can focus on what they are doing, and they become successful, and they want to turn around and give back to the next round of people. You will never see this in working for the man, but in learning from the woman, in ways and possibilities that simply don’t come about in other parts of the world like they do right here, in the freest part of it.
The compassion behind the double bottom line is what will drive our nation’s hobbled economy back on track. It walks the unique line between the communal support of socialism which young people champion, and the freedoms of capitalism which they often take for granted. In American capitalism, you make your profit, and then you get to make a choice: do you hoard it, or share it? For so long, hoarding has been made the choice of choice, with little regard spared for the wonders you can work with it. But America is a nation of increasing compassion, and its growing majority’s choice of choice is to share it. To give back, to empower others, and rearrange the our society around all God’s people, not just those who look like the people in power. It’s already changing the way we do business, just as radically wifi has.
It’s just astounding. You can actually choo-choo-choose to make the world a better place through your own enterprise. The balance isn’t just between turning a profit and heading home by five. The balance is becoming more centered on the things that truly matter: supporting your own self, and supporting others. A selfishness that can’t be helped, and a selflessness that also can’t be helped. It’s a vastly different big picture from what it was 30 years ago, but that’s all. It’s just… Different. Things grow, change, evolve. This is a train we aren’t going to hop off of halfway, when we feel like its gone far enough for our comfort, when we feel like it doesn’t need to go one mile farther. We’re going to ride this train to the bank, to our community gardens, to our schools, to our police and fire stations, and to our centers of law and legislature.
When women arise, mountains like injustice, inequality, and power quake in their depths. They get smashed to pieces by hammers called compassion and love. And the people below refashion their world from that rubble, turning what held them back into the way forward, into the future. This is progress. This is a new America, and this is how it is coming about.
Don’t like it? Kick rocks.