Black History Month: Revamping the Way You Celebrate Diversity
Like many national cultural and social events, such as Black History Month, that come once a year, businesses often look to celebrate them. However, one of the greatest mistakes companies make is celebrating them once a year. With the changes to the workplace — flexible schedules, hybrid and remote employees, multigenerational workforces, and social change — diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts are becoming the highest priorities for overarching business strategies and transformations.
With Black History Month – and others coming up throughout the year – now is a great time to explore what these cultural celebrations are all about and how to integrate them into your organization’s culture.
Timeline of Black History Month
Black History Month began in Chicago, Illinois in the summer of 1915 when Carter G. Woodson and his friends traveled from Washington, D.C. to observe the 50th anniversary celebration of national emancipation that was sponsored by the state of Illinois. Thousands of African Americans traveled to the event that showcased the progress since the abolishment of slavery.
Post-celebration, Woodson founded an organization dedicated to the study of Black life and history. In September of the same year, he also formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Woodson spent the next decade advocating for promoting Black stories and lifestyles, ultimately turning a week-long celebration into a month-long commemoration. He chose the month of February as a sort of ode to President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, both of whom played an integral role in shaping Black history.
So why is this important to businesses? Understanding cultural history and the impact it has on the targeted demographic can help employers grow and cultivate a culture of emotional intelligence.
5 Tips for Celebrating Black History Month
1. Plan ahead.
While it’s essential to plan for designated months, it’s also important to incorporate DEIB initiatives into the full business strategy. Whether you select a committee or assign it to your HR department, it is integral to plan ahead. Last-minute celebrations or nods, such as using a hashtag or changing your brand colors to show support, can deafen your efforts altogether. Scope out opportunities to expand the celebration (i.e. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Juneteenth, African-American Music Appreciation Month), elevate community voices, and support local businesses as a means to push year-round inclusivity and advocacy among all demographic groups.
2. Expand celebration.
First and foremost, just because it is a celebration of Black history and culture, don’t make assumptions. Though race can be a taboo topic in the workplace, a common mistake businesses make is approaching the topic with colorblindness — meaning that no single demographic group initiative is focused on in an effort to create equality. However, studies have shown that this approach increases underrepresented groups’ perception of bias from their colleagues of different demographics and decreases engagement.
SLastly, make sure it is a company-wide effort. Everyone – no matter their race – should be encouraged to participate. Company-wide participation can provide a transformative employee perspective in learning about Black history and culture.
3. Consider ways to promote internally and externally.
Perhaps you already acknowledge the celebration internally by hosting an event, month-long initiative, or incorporating it into your overall business strategy. If you’re not sure where to start and are looking for ways to join the celebration, you could create a Black History Month playlist. Have employees submit their choice of song or artist and then select an open forum, such as an intranet, to host the playlist for all employees to access it. Conversely, you could share this playlist on social media with your followers. This is not only a public acknowledgement of your organization’s efforts, but also a way to include your followers and external audiences to participate.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to join the conversations on social media. Put out a LinkedIn poll or pose a thought leadership article that opens a conversation for others to join.
4. Elevate community voices.
Whether it’s your community or an external community, elevating community voices is a great way to bring recognition and relevance to your DEIB efforts. One way to do this is re-evaluating your recruiting and retention strategies. If you’re using artificial intelligence or other software to manage recruiting, check your algorithms to ensure there’s no unintentional bias. When it comes to retention, review and analyze your organization’s employment decisions. For example, if you experienced a layoff, was one or more demographic groups targeted more than others?
Another way to elevate voices is through an employee resource group (ERG). An ERG is typically led by a voluntary group of employees of a particular demographic whose aim is to provide personal and/or professional development support to foster a safe, diverse, and inclusive workplace.
A great way to incorporate ERGs is through informational sessions. Invite business partners and stakeholders, as well as influential authors, activists, and historians, to lead a discussion on important topics, like civil rights, race relations, unconscious bias, and microaggressions. Don’t expect guests to provide their insights for free; set funds aside to pay them for their time, effort, and expertise, as well as a way to show support for your ERG members.
5. Support local businesses.
There are so many ways to give back to your local-owned businesses. Here are just a few ways to support local businesses or organizations that assist Black communities:
- Volunteer with a nonprofit that helps Black communities
- Buy employees lunch from Black-owned restaurants
- Join your local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
- Donate to Black-supported organizations
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