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How To Make Black History Month More Impactful in the Workplace

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Is your organisation focused on building and fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace? Then this February, why not celebrate Black History Month (BHM) by pushing for more diversity and inclusion in your workplace?

While many organisations are taking steps toward greater diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, recent survey findings suggest that there's still more work to do to eradicate discrimination--conscious and unconscious--in work environments and to make the workplace more inclusive. The 2021 survey released by Society of Human Resource Management found that racism is still prevalent in the workplace. According to the survey, 19% of American workers felt they were treated unfairly in the workplace due to race or ethnicity in the last five years. Last year, that number dropped to 14%, however, more than a third of Black workers reported being treated unfairly in the workplace because of their race or ethnicity. 

As lockdowns ease up and more people head back to in-office work, this article on workplace racism suggested that "workplace racism could make Black, racialised Canadians dread returning to the office." The article quoted findings from a York University study that revealed: "around 96% of Black Canadians say racism is a concern at work, with 78% saying that the workplace racism they have noticed is severe."

With the realities of racism still prevalent in our post-pandemic workplace, this Black History Month, let's explore ways to make Black History Month more impactful in your organisation and more importantly, how to sustain that impact beyond February.

1. Support and Participation From Leadership

Black History Month, amplifying Black voices and highlighting Black excellence is not just for Black employees. That message should come loud and clear from your leadership team who should set the tone across the organisation. Authenticity, transparency and communication are key when it comes to supporting Black-centered initiatives. How is your organisation increasing diversity at the leadership level? Are leaders communicating the importance of these initiatives, encouraging participation, showing up and building trust by displaying their own vulnerability?

When leaders champion diversity, they show it in the implementation of equitable goals, policies, practices and behaviors at every level of the organisation. They actively tell employees that it's important to have tough conversations in the workplace--ones that address implicit biases and microaggressions, for example--and that you're all on the path toward progress together. 

Leaders addressing systemic racism and driving cultural change in the workplace also recognise the importance of employee resource groups--the organisation's true ambassadors for facilitating action and accountability when it comes to the organisation's DEI initiatives.  By providing a safe and open space for these groups to engage in important conversations in the workplace, not only around important holidays or remembrances, but all year long, they're increasing the sense of belonging for all employees.

This February, Vena is celebrating Black History Month as well as the formation of our new Black Employee Resource Group.

2. Building Community Relationships

If your organisation is reaching out to Black communities during Black History Month, that's a good thing. But on the outside, imagine what it's like for Black communities to be called on or to only feel supported during this month. How is your organisation showing support to these communities before and after BHM?

Supporting Black communities entails amplifying their voices and building relationships with them all year long so they can be seen and heard. Bring experts and consultants in for panels or webinars. Are there opportunities to showcase their resources in your organisation? Can you promote events that raise money for special causes supporting Black communities? 

By sharing stories and hearing different perspectives--from inside and outside of the organisation--your organisation is bringing teams together, encouraging exploration and collaboration, and fostering greater representation and change for Black communities.

How can you authentically build a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion in your workplace?

3. Forming Meaningful Partnerships

Looking for more effective strategies to infuse diversity and inclusion in your organisation? Partnering with Black businesses and organisations that can support your journey is a great way to sustain impact beyond February.

Once you've established what's important for your organisation in terms of diversity and inclusion and how it pertains to Black employees, aligning with organisations that support your values, missions and goals can lead to more opportunities to advance your DEI efforts.

For instance, is your organisation looking to attract and grow Black talent in the tech space? Then partnering with an organisation such as Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN) can help you achieve that goal. BPTN, a network of 20,000+ Black professionals, is a trusted leader in the Black tech community that connects Black tech talent with companies and supports them to not only attract and hire Black talent, but also to retain and promote Black professionals.  They offer mentorships, master classes, recruitment services, career-building events and more. A partnership with BPTN tells your current and future employees that you are invested in creating pathways for their careers.

4. Showing More Diversity and Inclusion Everywhere

How are your organisation, business and brand showing an ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion? Diverse and inclusive content and representation--the kind that resonates with your customers, audiences, prospects, current and future employees--requires much more than imagery or checking boxes.

Showing more diversity and inclusion in your brand story requires a deep understanding of the audiences or employees you are trying to reach. Sure, they want to see themselves in your content, but they also want to ensure that you've done your market research and have a clear picture of their needs and pain points. This includes using data-backed insights to understand your inclusion strengths and to identify any gaps and areas that need changing.  

A 2019 survey by Google and The Female Quotient revealed that inclusive ads are affecting consumer behavior. Researchers learned that people were more likely to consider or purchase a product after viewing an ad they thought was diverse or inclusive. In fact, 64% took some sort of action after seeing an ad they considered diverse or inclusive. That percentage was even higher among specific groups, including Black (79%), LGBTQ (85%), millennial (77%) consumers.

Showing diversity also means challenging narratives. Are you showing diversity in a range of roles? Are your content creators, designers, product developers and HR teams instilling DEI approaches in your brand stories, tone, style guides and training materials? The best way to make DEI a priority across your organisation is to make sure everyone has a seat at the table.

Watch our panel discussion on how diversity and inclusion create high-performing teams.

Black History Month and Beyond

Looking for more ways to celebrate Black history and culture at work year round? How about shining a spotlight on influential Black business and tech pioneers or clicking here for more ideas. In the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "The time is always right to do what is right."

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