Black History Month…It Matters
Black History Month Is Upon Us.
February honors the triumphs and struggles of African Americans throughout US history.
The month was first designated in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African American leaders. Teams and organizations can recognize this important holiday in different ways. Regardless of how your organization celebrates, the value of the celebration is the recognition and the diversity of the Black community, past, present, and future. For far too long, many Black Americans have felt they had to keep their black identity separate from their professional identity – the real question is why? The racial reckoning of 2020 with the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement prompted an essential call to action for many organizations to commit to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging – not just in the moment but moving forward to create workplace cultures where all employees have a voice. For some organizations, this call to action was meaningful; for others, it was performative. As many companies work to deliver on their DEI commitment, Black History Month is a unique opportunity to hold conversations around race and for all employees to speak up – not just Black employees.
Tips for an Impactful Black History Month Program
Why should your organization celebrate and honor Black History Month? Because honoring and recognizing your employees’ cultural backgrounds play an important role in creating cultural curiosity and building employee engagement. It also provides unique opportunities to speak up and listen up while creating meaningful dialogue around historical awareness.
Invite all employees to learn about the significance of Black History Month in the spirit of inclusion and curiosity. Everyone in your organization should be encouraged to participate; it should not be the sole responsibility of your Black or African American employees to organize their recognition. Likewise, avoid the assumption that a professional community member wants to be involved just because of their ethnic background.
By taking the following steps, organizations can transform their commitment to Black History Month:
Ensure your program is part of your broader strategy and supplementary to your existing DEI efforts. Recognize Black History Month on your social media platforms and internal and external communications. You might consider sharing and celebrating employee and customer success stories while partnering with your Black or African American ERG (employee resource group). Highlight your supplier diversity partnerships with Black-owned organizations and employees making a difference in multicultural communities.
Educate and Raise Awareness
Be curious and learn more. Consider engaging an external speaker or a panel of subject matter experts to speak to employees about the significance of Black History Month and critical topics surrounding the Black American experience. Invest in lasting and self-paced DEI learning solutions for all employees, not just leadership. Utilize innovative communication tools that raise awareness and call specific action for individuals and the organization.
Some organizations treat this month as a moment to celebrate Black culture and history, not a strategic opportunity to create lasting and meaningful change. Go deeper in connecting the Black account to the present while leaning “inward” to build organizational equity for all employees.
Serve and Support
Black History Month should be more than an annual occurrence on your organization’s social media page. Instead, be strategic in local partnerships, volunteer efforts, and charitable donations in nearby communities of color. Serve and support communities of color all year long.
Take Inclusive Actions
Practice active inclusion all year long by building a healthy workplace culture where you seek to understand the perspective of all employees. Recruiting a diverse team without ensuring your culture will include them is a waste of resources and effort.
Use your privilege to benefit others, and remember that intersectionality (the idea that every human has multiple and overlapping identities) is an integral part of understanding DEI. No community is monolithic, and the Black community has many identities and experiences.
Provide ongoing support to underrepresented communities year-round by committing to increasing your supplier diversity and implementing a robust supplier diversity strategy. Be curious about ways to strengthen Black economics, which helps to shrink the racial wealth gap and fosters job creation for people and communities of color.
Black History Month and a Speak Up Culture
Feelings of conscious and unconscious awkwardness during Black History Month planning and events can arise; that is normal. It’s okay for individuals and organizations to feel a bit of discomfort. Some opportunities to speak up and listen during the month may cause unease, making some uncomfortable. When the conversations are rooted in care and empathy, the outcomes will generate a healthy and positive response.
Use your organization’s building blocks or foundation around core values and mission as a guideline when creating forums to speak up during the month. Ask these questions:
- Do competitors or customers recognize Black History Month, AND are they actively acknowledging the month? If so, what is their focus?
- Does your organization influence and foster a safe, healthy, and supportive environment for all employees to speak up this month?
- Do Black employees feel safe speaking up? Why or why not?
- How can this Black History Month be used to activate all employees to speak up and enable all leaders to listen up?
- Does Black History month provide an opportunity to have sensitive conversations with care and empathy?
Encourage employees to tell their stories in their authentic voice, whether openly or anonymously. Solicit feedback through surveys or other practical tools. A great place to start is to create speaking forums, such as employee resource groups, stay engagement interviews, workshops, and other educational opportunities. Engage subject matter experts and create meaningful and ongoing opportunities where everyone can tell their story and encourage people to listen and respond.
Recognizing Black History Month naturally promotes diversity, equity, inclusion, and a sense of belonging.
Black Americans and Leadership
Although Black employees comprise 14 percent of all US employees, the Black workforce at the managerial level is just half that at 7 percent. At senior management levels – vice president and president – it declines to 5 and 4 percent, respectively. This year during Black History Month, challenge the organization to assess your leadership teams and determine who is missing. Be encouraged, intentional, and thoughtful in considering representation or lack thereof. Ask the hard questions:
- Is your senior leadership team diverse? If not, why?
- What can your organization do differently regarding career development, training and awareness, leadership development, recruitment, and retention?
- How does your organization advance and hire top talent across all organization demographics?
- Is the organization investing in the professional development of diverse front-line workers as a leadership pipeline?
- Do leaders from underrepresented groups authentically speak up?
- Do leaders from underrepresented groups change or hide who they are to be considered for advancement opportunities? If so, why?
Achieving equity for diverse leadership talent will require organizations to address uncomfortable questions while considering factors such as geography, position type, industry, and workplace culture. Given the scale and complexity of challenges, organizations will have to act bolder than they have done in the past. Tips for creating a diverse leadership talent pipeline include:
- Integrate DEI into the overall talent program strategy all year – training, communication, and awareness.
- Fix your inclusion problems before your recruit – intention has to be a part of the framework.
- Be intentional in attracting all talent, not just some.
- Remove bias in recruiting and the interview/selection process.
- Be curious…leverage Black leaders to speak up. Ask for their input on ways to achieve more significant talent equity.
- Remove workplace barriers (real or perceived) to entry for all underrepresented groups.
- Ensure every interaction is inclusive – including with job candidates and customers.
- Focus on building a culture of inclusion and belonging where DEI is the present and the future.
- Invest in all talent while providing everyone access to training, development, coaching, mentorship, and sponsorship.
The impact of greater access to opportunity and advancement for underrepresented leaders yields progress toward a more diverse labor force and an inclusive and equitable experience for Black leaders and all leaders. When organizations prioritize a robust DEI program strategy, they will experience the competitive advantage of increased profitability and innovation, increasing the ability to attract and retain top-level leadership.
Organizations that invest time in celebrating and recognizing diverse and multicultural holidays also communicate to their employees and customers that they care about diversity, equity, and inclusion and that all employees have a voice. While society still has systemic issues, remember that Black History Month illuminates historical contributions and the continued push for positive change. The relationships built and the actions taken in observance of Black History Month can create sustainable benefits throughout the month and beyond.
Syntrio offers various Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Speak Up! and Listen Up!, and Leadership learning solutions. We welcome the opportunity to discuss how we might partner.