“Real education means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to begin with life as they find it and make it better.”
― Carter G. Woodson
In February of 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) sponsored the first incarnation of Black History Month. At the time, the week-long celebration set out to raise awareness and appreciation of African-American contributions to society.
In 1926, this celebration was revolutionary. Today, nearly a century later, Black History Month is still revolutionary. This year, companies can show employees they care by committing to not just a 28-day observance in February, but to the ongoing education and celebration of Black culture.
In honor of Black History Month, we’ve put together a list of actions that your organization can take to make celebrating Black history part of life at work year-round. These practices are sure to enhance diversity and inclusion in your workplace.
How companies can commit to celebrating Black History Month and beyond
1. Celebrate Black excellence
Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate the modern and historical trailblazers — the artists, musicians, poets, athletes, politicians and community leaders. It’s about acknowledging and celebrating Black excellence. To make it a part of company culture, employers should extend the celebration of Black excellence beyond February. Check out our recent blog post to get started.
2. Don’t put the onus on Black employees to educate their colleagues
Today, a massive amount of reliable resources are just a few Google searches away. Leaders and managers especially: Please don’t ask your Black employees what you should learn and how. Chances are, they’ve been asked this a million times before, and that’s mentally exhausting. Instead, curate a repository of information (data and research, books, films and more) that you’ve learned from, so your employees can as well.
3. Do a DEI gap and opportunity analysis, communicating the changes and findings
Audit your employee handbook. Revisit your values and goals. Examine retention statistics and exit interviews. Don’t wrap the process without identifying areas to change and improve. No organization is perfect, but the goal is accountability. And unlike perfection, accountability is not an endpoint, it’s a constant pursuit. Make this process and the communication around it recurring. Factors like accountability and reliability directly impact trust, and when employees trust their companies, they’re more engaged and less stressed at work.
4. Make inclusion and equity learning a part of yearly planning
What is your company working on in 2021? When 2022 planning rolls around, how will you focus on racial equity and inclusion in the workplace? The scope of this work is broad, so it helps to prioritize short-term fixes and ongoing learning. This exercise should be a part of yearly planning just like discussing financial growth and employee engagement strategies. And set aside funds to support all of the steps described in this post.
5. Encourage employees to pursue their interest in Black history by providing time and funds
Psychologists and educators have known for a long time that interest enhances learning. Bring DEI education into smaller team settings — encourage employees to learn about a facet of Black history or culture that interests them, or to volunteer for a local organization they care about. Not every initiative needs to be company-wide … in fact, the most impactful changes might happen individual-by-individual. Make space for the moments of learning that contribute to a better employee experience for all.