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Employee Experience

How to Celebrate Black History Month in the Workplace

Since 1976, the United States has dedicated the month of February to celebrating the essential role Black Americans have and continue to play in our country’s history. It’s also a time for our nation to reflect on the progress that still needs to be made in order to allow all individuals the same opportunities in life.  

Although many offices remain closed, employees continue to work from home and hosting in-person gatherings isn’t an option right now, it’s still important for your organization to launch an initiative that acknowledges this significant month. Not only is this a great opportunity to educate your workforce on the racial inequities that persist in the United States, it also opens the door for meaningful and progressive conversation between coworkers, managers, leadership teams and the community at large. On-site or off-site, together or apart, here are some ways your organization can celebrate Black History Month:

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Encourage Employees to Share and Listen 

Celebrating Black history doesn’t mean singling out members of your workforce based on their racial identity. Rather, your organization should work to create opportunities for your entire workforce to come together to listen, learn and discover ways to take action towards racial justice. It’s important that all employees feel seen, heard and involved. Here are a few ways to bring your dispersed workforce together to better understand the significance of this month: 

  • Host a virtual happy hour to discuss Black History. Race-related discussions can be a little uncomfortable in the workplace, and that’s okay. Sometimes, we need to experience some discomfort in order to find ways to make progress. Racial identity aside, your employees have stories to tell and lessons to learn. Remind them that this is a friendly social hour and that it is a safe, judgment-free space. Invite employees to ask questions, share personal or historical experiences and just enjoy the company of their coworkers.  
  • Start a “reading” club. We’re all spending more time at home right now, and many of us are looking for leisure activities outside of mindless binge-watching. Help your employees fill their downtime with something more productive by asking your teams to share their favorite educational books, articles, documentaries, films or podcasts highlighting Black history. Alternatively, your organization can offer up some relevant reading, watching or listening materials to take the pressure off your workforce. Unsure of where to start? Reach out to local resources within your community or your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) teams for suggestions. We also love the Smithsonian Learning Lab’s broad selection of digital resources about Black history. 
  • Create a digital board for employees to continue to learn and grow together. Social distancing shouldn’t stop your teams from socializing, especially when it comes to such an important event. Invite your workforce to join a digital community where they can engage in friendly and constructive conversations about the things they’re learning, seeing, hearing or want to know more about related to Black History Month, equity in the workplace, social change and more. You can easily create these online communities on employee social networking platforms like Slack or Yammer, or build groups within your digital wellbeing app. Get the conversation flowing by sharing Rachel Cargle’s inspirational and educational daily learning stories.  

Make It a Virtual Learning Opportunity 

Make the most of this awareness month by taking steps to educate your workforce with the help of experts and thought leaders. Bringing in an outside perspective can inspire and align your employees and organizational leaders on the mission to fight racial bias and injustice in and outside of the workplace.  

  • Schedule a virtual speaker or workshop. Your organization doesn’t have to spend a lot to share expert insight into Black history and the racial justice movement. Think about your local connections, reach out to your organization’s DE&I consultants or look for a pre-recorded expert speaker or workshop online. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) is hosting their inaugural Virtual Black History Month Festival this month with free presentations focused on a wide range of topics, The Smithsonian is offering virtual performances, lectures and family-friendly activities surrounding Black history and heritage all month long, and there’s a whole library of TED Talks that dive into the racial justice movement. Put some time on everyone’s calendar to broadcast one or two of your top picks, then open up the floor for employee questions and discussion on what was just learned.  
  • Invite employees to a lunch and learn. If a company-wide workshop isn’t in the cards, send out a calendar invite for a series of small-group lunch and learns on topics that center around Black History Month. This could involve short virtual sessions with experts, Q&As with the leadership team or DEI task force, employee forum discussions or team-building activities with an educational twist. Better yet, dedicate this time to a culture-boosting anti-bias or DE&I training. Ask employees to preregister and send out an e-gift card for a takeout lunch as a thank you for participating!

Learn why equity is essential to creating a diverse and inclusive workforce, how to go beyond statements of solidarity and take action, ways to support women of color in the workplace and best practices for bolstering the wellbeing of marginalized employees in our THRIVEx webinar replays. 

Find Ways to Give Back 

  • Highlight local volunteer opportunities. There are plenty of ways to safely volunteer one’s time during COVID – some of which may involve supporting COVID-related efforts! Connect employees with local charities, non-profits, schools or shelters that have a mission to serve or historical roots in the Black community. Don’t forget to lead by example. Show your employees you’re just as invested in supporting community-wide change as they are, and you’ll all feel good knowing that you‘re making a difference. 
  • Support a good cause. Whether it’s donating to Black-owned non-profits and charities or organizations that benefit Black communities, consciously supporting Black-owned restaurants and businesses, connecting with local groups aimed at creating racial equity or getting involved in actionable causes, encourage your employees to get involved in a capacity that feels right for them. Take it one step further by rewarding employees for their hard work and dedication during these difficult times with a gift card or token of appreciation from a local Black-owned business.  

See how Amneal Pharmaceuticals turned a company-wide wellbeing challenge into a culture-boosting fundraising opportunity with VP GO. 

Looking Beyond Black History Month 

One month is simply not enough time to cover the history, accomplishments and persisting needs of Black communities and individuals, but it can be an impactful starting point. Organizations have a unique advantage when it comes to driving meaningful change within their communities and improving health equity by centering their workplace culture around diversity, equity, inclusion and employee wellbeing. Understanding your role as a workplace leader in the fight against racial injustice is crucial as you plan your approach to addressing inequities, unconscious bias, cultural expression and wellbeing in the workplace. Gain better insight into the pivotal role employers play in empowering marginalized employees to improve their overall wellbeing with our full list of DE&I resources, and head into March with the knowledge and tools to create a strong, equitable workplace culture in 2021 and beyond.