Often in the workplace, we hear organizations use the buzzword “equality” and explain how important that term is to them. You may have heard phrases like “we are really fighting for equality here” or “equality is one of our founding principles”. And while equality is important, it’s fairness that many businesses need to focus on. Yes, there is more than a two letter difference between the two terms.
Equality means that everyone in the company benefits from the same resources and opportunities. Everyone benefits from the same support system, the same training and education, the same status within departments. Fairness, on the other hand, demonstrates that each employee has different circumstances and understands that different resources may be required for certain groups of people in order to achieve an equal result. With fairness, the playing field is level and organizations are ready to be flexible and work with their employees to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Equality without fairness can actually lead to inequality, because treating everyone equally without meeting the needs of certain employees means that the playing field is not level.
We spoke with Kendra Bracken-Ferguson, Founder of BrainTrust and BrainTrust Founders Studio, on questions of equity and equality. BrainTrust is a social media and branding agency focused on building and growing brands from organic communities. Over the past 6 years, BrainTrust has partnered with over 200 brands such as Halle Berry, Kelly Ripa Home, Dear Drew by Drew Barrymore, Revelations Entertainment by Morgan Freeman, Sally Beauty and Under Armor to develop and accelerate brands in online and offline. presence. BrainTrust Founders Studio strives to increase inclusive economic opportunities for black beauty and wellness founders and connects them with resources, capital and strategic advice.
Why did you create The BrainTrust and more recently Founders Studio?
I started BrainTrust after helping to found the Digital Practice group at Fleishman-Hillard and later becoming the first director of digital media at Ralph Lauren and co-founding Digital Brand Architects in 2009, one of the first agencies to run bloggers. When I sat down to create a new agency model, I started with the two most important things in business: working with smart people and people I trust. With my years of experience in an agency and building a business, BrainTrust was a natural iteration of my career. Basically, my team members are digital natives who thrive on innovation and novelty and challenge themselves to help level the playing field towards equity and inclusion. Our expertise is rooted in my first clients in 2002, when I dove into the original multicultural social media platforms including Black Planet, Mi Gente and MySpace. To this day, we continue to drive innovation, find new ways to work with our clients as partners, grow our expertise and networks to stay relevant and up to date, and constantly seek out futuristic opportunities.
BrainTrust Founders Studio was born out of our work partnering with companies to build their brands and tell their stories. This is truly the culmination of my career over the past two decades and offers an evolving way to create parity and fairness by providing additional intellectual power in business, finance, marketing and technology. thanks to a global ecosystem and a community of founders. I know black-founded beauty and wellness brands will change the paradigm within the billion dollar global beauty and wellness industry. As a Black Founder myself, I understand the myriad of unique challenges that Black Founders face today. In the United States, only 4% of black-owned businesses survive beyond the start-up phase, even though 20% of black Americans start businesses. More than 9 out of 10 black founders lack investment / working capital, while 77% lack mentorship and business management support and 75% lack distribution channels. In addition, more than half do not have access to suppliers and marketing services (source: Studio of the founders of BrainTrust).
My expertise lies in the beauty and wellness sector, from brand ideation to development through consumer adoption. My vast experience has given me the prospect of recognizing this urgent need within the industry.
Why is fairness as a goal and concept crucial in business?
I understand that fairness and equality come from the same root. Our history of oppression, redlining and marginalization continues to ration access to essential resources for certain groups, including women and people of color. We do not all have the same circumstances or access and the business sector could shed the brightest light on this injustice. Attempts to begin to level the playing field begin with this recognition and a commitment to true inclusion, sharing of resources and opportunities for true wealth creation.
We have to come to a place where fairness is not a concept but a pillar and inherent. Fairness is certainly starting to repair our humanity. It’s ethical. It is also a good deal. As we examine the results of our national census, which shows a change from predominantly “white” to predominantly “non-white”, we cannot ignore the opportunity to increase our market share through inclusion and service to the diverse groups that make up our communities.
What does a fair business mean to you? What are you doing to make your organization fair?
The BrainTrust Founders Studio is built on four pillars: community, education, mentorship and capital. We are a resource ecosystem and data repository for industry trends and intelligence where black founders are centralized and supported by mentors, partners and investors who will meet these founders wherever they are in their business. journey. We have three membership levels: Start, Grow, and Accelerate. A fair business means filling the gaps – not just in theory, but through actions that create lasting impact.
What kinds of fairness issues did you see in the advertising and media that made you want to start BrainTrust?
For me, the biggest problem for black founders of beauty and wellness is the lack of access to resources, networks and capital. In terms of advertising and media, which play a crucial role in how these founders gain brand awareness and compete globally, I hope we will continue to see an increase in stories of black women, founders and women. brunettes, and senior staff. These rich stories are filled with displays of courage, cultural capital and crossing roadblocks. They also capture the intersectionality – to use Kimberlé Crenshaw’s term – of individuals who make a remarkable difference in our industry. We are nuanced in our identities, our vision and our approach.
When was BrainTrust / Founder Studio founded? And why do you think now is the time to shine?
I founded BrainTrust, a hybrid branding, social media and experience agency focused on building and growing brands from organic communities in 2016. We launched BrainTrust Founders Studio in October 2021 to help others founders to achieve their goals and create sustainable businesses. My personal motto is “carpe diem” so I wake up with gratitude and see each day as an opportunity to create new opportunities and paths for success. The societal events of 2020 have opened more doors, especially with initiatives like that of Aurora James 15% engagement, which calls for the world’s largest retailers to have greater representation (15%) of blacks on their shelves, since 15% of the American population is black. But we have also learned that going through these doors is not enough. What opportunities are hidden behind these doors? Are the needs of Black and Brown founders and consumers being met? Do these founders find advice and resources to grow that allow them to meet the demands of large companies? These are some of the questions we ask the founders as we prepare to meet their needs.
As our industry evolves, we must diversify products with ingredients that meet the needs of our increasingly multicultural consumers. Inclusiveness enriches our social fabric and also increases income.
What kind of success has Brain Trust had so far?
Since our launch, we’ve partnered with over 200 brands to help them launch, grow or accelerate their online and offline presence to drive brand awareness, show ROI, and generate revenue. We have worked with clients from Sally Beauty, Under Armor, Beautycon, Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Drew Barrymore and beyond. In 2020, we launched Business of the Beat, a beauty and wellness podcast to share ideas from BIPOC leaders to help diversify the faces we see leading the industry. We also helped create a 6 month mentorship program through BeautyUnited, a nonprofit organization for Black and Indigenous Beauty and Wellness Founders.
If you could give advice to other organizations to become more equitable, what advice would you give? Ask people what they need; does not assume. Go beyond the notion of fairness as a concept and take action to activate organizational change that promotes fairness at all levels of the organization. Prepare creative and productive individuals for leadership opportunities and, when they arrive, deliver what they need to be successful. Above all, lead with grace. This job does not always have a plan. Assume a positive intention and result.