HR Leads Business

Feb 14, 2019 | Ginny Engholm

How to Honor Black History Month in the Workplace

Every February, Black History Month presents employers the opportunity to show their commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. “It's definitely important for employers to take the opportunity when we have months that specifically recognize groups to take a moment to delve into ways in which that particular demographic has contributed to that organization and the nation as a whole,” says Avis Jones-DeWeever, CEO of the diversity and inclusion consulting firm Incite Unlimited.

Honoring Black History Month helps companies show that they value cultural diversity at their organization. “These kinds of events are critically important to our cultural awareness of the value that everyone brings to a workplace,” says Wes Pratt, chief diversity officer at Missouri State University.

And participating in events that highlight diversity can help a company’s retention efforts. “If people get in an organization and feel excluded, not seen or heard, they're going to look for a place that gives them that,” says Jones-DeWeever. These kinds of activities can help companies show employees that they are valued and included, she says.

Here are three ways that companies can honor Black History Month in their workplace.

Make It a Company-Wide Effort

The most important thing for employers to remember when planning these kinds of events is to be inclusive. “The more that people from outside those specific affinity groups are involved in those efforts, the more it changes and transforms the culture,” says Eileen Scully, founder of Rising Tides. “We could be talking about Pride Month or Black History Month, but if your organization has a culture where everyone participates in lifting these different groups up, that becomes a retention tool and a brand promise evident to those outside organization.” 

Involving people from the affinity group being honored is important, says Jones-DeWeever, but planning and executing the event doesn’t have to fall exclusively to them. It should involve the entire company, she advises. 

Don’t Limit It to 28 Days

Black History Month might be a time where a company focuses on highlighting the integral role that African-Americans play at a company but it shouldn’t be the only time that a company talks about diversity and inclusion. 

Scheduling talks and formal events throughout the year can go a long way toward improving inclusivity at your organization, says Jones-DeWeever. “Have formal events where you have various speakers come in and engage in courageous conversations that address issues that oftentimes go unaddressed,” she advises. She suggests creating long-term initiatives that run throughout the month and during the rest of the year to highlight specific historical achievements of various affinity groups at your organization.

“But just doing something superficial is not going to be endearing to that specific population,” she says. “If you produce something that is substantive and gets to the crux of real issues, I believe you'll be more likely to have higher retention rates in the long run.”

Ultimately, successful inclusion efforts go beyond just honoring an affinity group once a year. “It needs to be something that's not just a one-off. It needs to be something that is woven into work that you do all year long to create an inclusive environment,” she says.

Be Strategic in Your Diversity Planning

These kinds of initiatives can add a lot of value to your organization, but they are most successful when they are strategically planned and executed. “It’s value-added to any organization to recognize the value of inclusion, but you have to be conscious,” says Pratt. “You have to be intentional about what you're doing.”

While it’s critical to have members of your organization take the lead with these efforts, bringing in outside support, speakers or facilitators can help organizations have tough but necessary conversations, says Scully.

If they are properly planned and executed, these kinds of efforts can help companies do more than talk about diversity and inclusion. “These opportunities create forums and safe places where people can engage in conversations about what it means to be inclusive and what it means to recognize and appreciate our diversity,” says Pratt. They can help create a real culture of inclusion, he says.