If your organization is one of the many taking a more active stance on diversity, equity, and inclusion in 2021, you hopefully already have a plan for how you’ll be honoring Black History Month in your workplace. Black History Month is an important time to actively acknowledge the pioneering African Americans and members of the Black diaspora who came before, and the crucial role they played in building our country and culture. February has been officially dedicated to this cause by every U.S. president since 1976.
Each year, the administration also designates a theme for Black History Month. This year’s theme is ‘Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity’. As remote working has given much greater insight into many people’s home lives than ever before, and as the needs of employee caregivers are being given more weight, this is an important topic to incorporate into the already crucial need for more DEI programming. How can you honor both this year’s theme and Black History Month in general in your workplace? We’ve got some dos and don’ts to help you plan a successful program.
Why it’s essential to honor Black History Month in the workplace
While it should come as no surprise to readers of this blog, inclusion is important. Josh Bersin found that inclusive companies had 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee over a 3-year period. He identified the embedded approach to diversity and inclusion at these organizations as one of the “magic practices” that drives the success of top-performing companies. The study furthermore found that the inclusive companies were 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market.
These bottom line benefits are driven by the fact that inclusive environments set employees up to do their best work. From recruitment to retention, engagement to productivity, inclusion impacts every aspect of the employee lifecycle, and increases happiness and wellbeing. In addition, inclusivity creates a level of psychological safety that enables employees to focus on their work rather than on worrying about past or future attacks and slights. It also opens the door for them to bring novel ideas to the table without fear of ridicule or retribution, thereby driving the innovation revenues referenced above.
Setting aside time to authentically honor and acknowledge the contributions of leaders of color through events such as Black History Month shows employees that your organization is willing to put their money where their mouth is. Allocating resources to such programs, coupled with genuine, ongoing DEI efforts, lets everyone know that inclusion isn’t just a front at your company, but something that must be practiced by every employee every day. Highlight the achievements of Black and African American pioneers across U.S. history, but make sure that you’re doing the same for the Black and African American pioneers within your organization. Celebrating Black History Month in the workplace isn’t just about recognizing the past, but about looking towards and building for a future where we can achieve real equity for all people who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color.
Tips for authentically celebrating Black History Month in the workplace
The first and most important element when planning any Black History Month initiative is that February cannot be the only time that you recognize and champion Black and African American people. Your Black History Month efforts should be part of a larger coordinated strategy grounded in anti-racism and designed to build truly inclusive, equitable spaces for all people of color. Otherwise, anything you do will ring hollow. Make it clear to employees how any initiatives this month tie back to your larger focus on inclusion and belonging.
Once you’ve grounded your approach in your larger DEI strategy, consider these tips to ensure your efforts drive real impact:
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. There are many organizations offering webinars and sessions that may be of interest to your employees. Tap into these networks. Research events happening near you, or being offered by organizations you partner with, and ensure your employees know about them. For instance, through the Global ERG Network, we’re offering a panel discussion tomorrow, 2/10 at 1pm Eastern entitled ‘Are You an Ally?’ focused around workplace responses to the Black Lives Matter movement (register here!).
- Bring in the experts. If you have the budget, offering a relevant diversity, equity, and inclusion training during Black History Month is a great way to demonstrate your commitment to building a better workplace for African American employees. Many DEI trainers successfully transitioned their workshops to virtual formats earlier in the pandemic, so determine what you want the session to focus on, then find a practitioner to deliver a session to help you meet your employees’ needs.
- Provide options. Not everything you plan will work with everyone’s schedule or will be something they’ll choose to participate in. Accordingly, it’s important to provide options to cater to different levels of knowledge, diverse learning styles, and varying schedules. For instance, if you’re planning a book club, consider providing a few different books for people to choose from, along with corresponding discussions. If you’re offering training, hold at least two separate sessions to help ensure everyone who wants to can attend.
- Give back. Planning volunteer opportunities that support the Black community is a great way to honor those who came before in the effort to advance equity and social justice. Find a local organization that supports African Americans near your company headquarters, or partner with a national nonprofit and/or advocacy organization to provide your employees the opportunity to learn and to become an active part of the solution.
- Hold space. It’s important not to put your Black employees on the spot as part of your Black History Month programming. Under no circumstances should they be responsible for planning or even participating in any initiatives, unless they have explicitly voiced interest in doing so. Allow and enable them to honor this month in their own way, and empower other employees with the space to stretch their boundaries and explore new topics in contexts where they’re supported to ask (non-offensive) questions.
Honoring Black History Month in the workplace is an important element of a holistic DEI strategy that actually drives inclusion and truly supports employees who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color. Ultimately though, Black History Month shouldn’t end on the last day of February, but should instead carry on year-round and through everything you do. Recognize and celebrate African Americans every day, those outside of your company, and especially those on your team, and strive to build a legitimately anti-racist organization. If you could use some help in creating inclusive spaces, we encourage you to check out the Global ERG Network and the Workrowd platform, both of which come stocked with DEI resources and support for building inclusive employee communities. As always, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.