Black History Month is an annual celebration of the often-overlooked contributions of Black Americans to American life. Many activities focus on the past – schoolchildren learn about poets, jazz singers, and civil rights leaders, while families visit history museums or watch documentary specials. However, Black history doesn’t only belong to the past, and it isn’t only for kids.
If you are in a position of power, such as a CEO, manager, or HR professional, challenge yourself to honor Black History Month in a way that will improve diversity and inclusion in your organization all year round.
Here are five ways to celebrate Black History Month at the office by honoring African-Americans in the present.
1) Start a Mentorship Program
Depending on your company’s size, this could be formal or informal. The goal should be to develop a mechanism by which senior leaders of color can mentor and advise young professionals on how to succeed in the field. If a mentorship program isn’t feasible, consider a networking event or roundtable discussion with a similar topic.
2) Support Black Businesses
Who are your suppliers? Do you regularly work with contractors or consultants? Make a conscious effort to cast a broader net when distributing RFPs, and support Black businesses and entrepreneurs when possible.
3) Spotlight Current Black Leaders
A company intranet, newsletter, or Facebook page is a great place to include “Did You Know”-style tidbits of Black History all month long. But instead of sharing well-known facts about Frederick Douglass or Rosa Parks, try spotlighting African-American leaders within your industry or within your local community. This demonstrates an appreciation for contemporary African-Americans’ contributions and a commitment to an inclusive notion of community.
4) Volunteer for a Nonprofit
Have a service day event at a nonprofit that makes a positive impact on the local Black community. Ask employees for suggestions.
5) Tackle a Systemic Diversity Issue
Many people advise against holding a diversity training or workshop during Black History Month. They can be trite and ineffective if they’re held every year, but nothing about company culture actually changes. Instead, consider whether your organization is ready to make any systemic changes that would improve diversity. Can you review hiring and compensation policies to ensure they are fairly implemented? Is your organization ready to commit to ensuring women and minorities are represented proportionately in the leadership pipeline? Efforts like this can do much more than a simple workshop to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
If you are an employee who is not yet at a level to implement systemic changes, you can still celebrate Black History Month in the office! Focus on the influence that you do have, and try implementing 1-4 on a smaller scale. For example, support black businesses by organizing a lunch with co-workers at a Black-owned restaurant, or share facts about Black industry leaders on the break room bulletin board. This will allow you to get creative about honoring Black excellence while flexing your leadership skills in the process.
Photo: WOCinTech Chat