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Should Your Company Celebrate Juneteenth at Work?

Each year, more and more employers are recognizing Juneteenth—i.e., June 19. In fact, in 2021, Juneteenth—which marks the legal emancipation of African-American slaves—was declared a federal holiday. Last year, about one-third of U.S. employers provided it as a paid holiday, and that percentage is expected to grow this year. 

As a result, you may be one of the many businesses now wondering if they should follow suit—or, at the very least, celebrate Juneteenth at work in some fashion.

The answer is: yes, you absolutely should be embracing Juneteenth. We’ll tell you why—and share some ways to hold a meaningful Juneteenth commemoration with your workforce.

Juneteenth’s History and Significance 

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all slaves in the Southern secessionist states were freed. However, the Civil War would not officially end until Spring of 1865, and it was not until June 19 of that year that the last enslaved Americans—who happened to be in Galveston, Texas—learned the news from Union soldiers that they were legally free.

Originally, Juneteenth—a blended word consisting of “June” and “nineteenth”—was celebrated locally in Texas, largely in African-American churches. But over time, as former Texan slaves left the state, the holiday (also called Freedom Day and Jubilee Day) spread across the country. Today, Americans of all races and backgrounds are embracing Juneteenth’s history and cultural significance.  

Employers that are committed to expanding their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives can certainly demonstrate their allegiance by celebrating Juneteenth at work—and, more significantly, by incorporating DE&I principles into the workplace every day. 

4 Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth at Work

Is Juneteenth a work holiday for your business in 2023? If not, you may wish to consider making it one in 2024. In the meantime, you might grant employees extra flexibility in scheduling their workday in order to accommodate personal celebrations or participation in community events.

In addition, there are a number of ways to hold a meaningful Juneteenth commemoration with your workforce, including: 

1. Hold Educational Initiatives About Juneteenth

Don’t assume that all of your employees are familiar with Juneteenth’s history and significance—plan some educational sessions or workshops. Perhaps you can line up a guest speaker to provide insights into the holiday or organize employee discussion groups that might pave the way for enlightening cross-cultural dialogue.

Need ideas? The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture is hosting a number of virtual events and programs on Juneteenth.  

2. Provide Related Employee Communications  

In addition, you might consider publishing company-wide emails and/or social media posts discussing the significance of Juneteenth. Beyond providing educational information, why not list some local events and organizations that offer or support Juneteenth activities?

3. Promote Juneteenth-related Volunteer Opportunities

Encourage employees to participate in local volunteer activities or community service projects that align with the spirit of Juneteenth, such as supporting organizations that promote racial justice, equality, and empowerment. Bonus: employees appreciate paid volunteer days

4. Invite Relevant ERGs to Plan Activities

If your workplace has employee resource groups (ERGs), you might collaborate with relevant groups—such as African American or diversity and inclusion groups—to plan some Juneteenth activities, such as hosting virtual events, creating cultural displays, and decorating the office. Don’t have ERGs? Now’s a great time to develop them.

Beyond Juneteenth: DE&I 365 

Embracing Juneteenth is an opportunity to celebrate freedom and reflect the progress our country has made towards racial equality. But it is just one day of the year, while the pursuit of DE&I in the workplace should be an everyday, year-round push. Equality and inclusivity require continuous effort and commitment. 

Beyond symbolic gestures, regularly test for pay equity, equal promotions, and diversity in hiring. Continually address any gaps you find in order to foster a fairer, more inclusive work environment. By embracing DE&I as a 365-day initiative, you can drive positive change and create a more equitable, inclusive world—starting in your workplace.

For more on this topic, read our companion blog and download our HR Guide to Employee Activism and DE&I.  

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