Bernadette Smith - Equality Institute

I first met Bernadette many years ago in Boston. We became friends and shared some wonderful experiences together. When I look back now, I realize that she was probably the first person I ever knew who had started their own business! It was shortly after LGBTQ marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, and she had started a wedding planning business to service LGBTQ people. I remember thinking how genius it was - to get to do something you love and support a cause you are passionate about.

SIDE NOTE: I’m learning now as I meet more and more people and get more and more clear about what I want to leave in this world that I have many experiences like this - where someone I met (and was impressed by) gave me a nugget that eventually led to creating this company!

We reconnected in the past year (thank you Facebook!) and it has been an ever greater joy to see what she is doing now. Although I’ve considered myself a Queer advocate for many years, I still find myself having conversations with my daughter using binary terms: he/she, gay/straight, etc. This is one of the reasons I know the work Bernadette does is so needed and powerful.

I am also a firm believer that social perception can only be changed through education/training. Providing a service that educates those in the work place about how to truly be diverse and inclusive as well as opens up the conversations around things that you may not come in contact with every day (or at least you may not believe you do) has the power to take abstract ideas (and political narratives) and make them real and applicable in all of our lives.

I also LOVE how she transitioned her first business - of being a wedding planner - to something that is very different on its surface… and yet, comes from the same set of values.

My takeaway: As long as you keep true to your values, how your business changes over time looks less like confusion and more like purpose.

Website: The Equality Institute  Twitter: @Bernadette_EQ

Tell us about your business. What do you do? Who do you serve? How long have you been at it? 

I'm a diversity and inclusion speaker and consultant with a deep expertise in LGBTQ issues. Over the past 15 years, I have worked with small and large businesses in 22 countries. My goal is to create the win-win where diverse folks can experience the world with dignity and businesses thrive because they have increased brand loyalty and innovation.

Why did you start your business? 

I started my business in 2004 as a wedding planner for LGBTQ couples who finally had legal marriage rights in Massachusetts.

What does "social good business" or "values based earning" mean to you? 

It means that you can do good and do well simultaneously. It means that you take responsibility for the larger global and social impact of your business.

What is your favorite part about running a social good business or your favorite experience since you started? 

My favorite is knowing that I've truly made a difference in the world. I've had some truly amazing experiences, but ask me about Joanne Herman's wedding. That experience was part of my WHY for many years.

What is your biggest struggle in running a social good business? 

Managing cash flow; taxes; mindset.

What would you like most to accomplish in the next year? 5 years? 

I have very specific impact and revenue goals. Mostly I want to provide "light bulb moments" around diversity to as many people as possible.

Who are your business icons or mentors? 

Jennifer Brown, Alan Berg, my partner Heather Vickery

What's your #1 tip for someone just getting started running a values-based business? 

#1: Learn how to SELL!!! Just because you have a passion or a craft does NOT mean you have a business. Otherwise, stay focused on your why. Build a community of other entrepreneurs for support. Don't be afraid to ask for help or find a mentor. Keep planting seeds. Keep showing up (don't let yourself get forgotten).

What are your favorite conferences or retreats to attend?

Still figuring this out. It's an experiment.

What is the last book you read? 

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

headshot photo by @withlovegeorgiagrace