As we approach another year of amplified social change and activism shaping our workplace landscapes, let’s uncover how Black History Month can help leaders worldwide to design a work culture where all people belong.
by Dannique Blake, FRSA — February 13, 2023
Creating a workplace where people can think differently and feel safe to voice their experiences and opinions is challenging for even the most prudent leader. Yet, leaders with the appetite for a socially collaborative workplace create better businesses and environments for people to thrive.
As an HR and Organizational Development Specialist, I’ve become adept at leveraging Black History Month to guide leaders toward genuine allyship and sustainable change.
I mean, when you’ve had your fair share of leaders who forget that Black History is a part of your identity – not just a month – you tend to get adept in setting that straight.
And yes, I know… How cliché a Black woman uncovering Black History Month as one of the most pivotal awareness months for leaders to get right. However, the month acts as a reminder that the triumphs and tribulations of Black people impact the financial, mental, and physical well-being of everyone in society.
In my role as an HR specialist, I’ve enlisted the help of Pride, Mental Health, and Neurodiversity Awareness Months, too, to get teams to:
Real change requires leaders to go beyond sharing Dr.King’s quotes and soliloquies about Rosa Parks’ bravery. Leaders must be brave enough to create a work culture where people belong and Black employees feel empowered all year round.
Start infusing Black History Month into your company culture by taking the month to show your employees that their opinions and experiences matter. Encourage feedback, find out what they love, what helps them to think differently from you, and what stops them from thriving. When you have this data, you can use the information to shape policies and procedures, create a healthy psychological contract within your organization and establish a shared understanding of what’s expected of everyone.
If you want to up the ante on building trust and long-term, sustainable inclusion at your organization, The Inclusion Dividend is a Blink I strongly recommend. It explains how diversity and inclusion boost any company’s productivity and business success while presenting a guide to transforming your workplace for good.
As a leader, an important part of your role is to continuously assess and evaluate the effectiveness of practices related to Black History Month. While it’s easy to fall into a cycle of rehashing Black History Month activities year after year, quitting an activity that you recognize no longer compliments your company values is a sign of strength and demonstrates a commitment to progress toward a work environment that embraces change.
In 2020 at the peak of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, I consulted with an organization that recognized how they had been observing heritage and awareness months no longer complimented the direction they wanted their company culture to grow toward.
Thinking of new ways to honor these months and weave them into their culture, we established an employee-led committee. The group elected a committee member each month to present at the company’s monthly briefings and reflect on the organization’s pillars for diversity and inclusion, open up opportunities for everyone to submit ideas to support the diversity and inclusion strategy, and recognize achievements and milestones.
This practice is now a solid part of the culture, with feedback from employees saying they feel like they can bring their personal experiences into their workplace all year round, not just during awareness months. It proves that senior executives leading by example, showing vulnerability, and being willing to make adjustments can have a ripple effect throughout the organization. When leaders admit that a strategy or practice is inadequate, it permits others to do the same, creating a more open and honest culture of improvement and inclusivity.
Hearing about the historical experiences and struggles of Black people can steer some leaders to make haphazard decisions to fix diversity issues. Without a clear plan, it can lead to unintended consequences and further reinforce existing biases and inequalities. Positive discrimination, or affirmative action, is just one of these decisions that I’ve had to arbitrate with organizations. The act often comes from a good place, yet in practice, encourages leaders to hastily offer preferential treatment to a group of people over another during hiring and retention processes without a strategy, objectives, or corresponding data behind it.
When an inclusive and diverse working culture is your goal, your practices must be cutting-edge. Your hiring and retention processes should address systemic barriers and biases and have a data-driven approach to evaluate effectiveness. Data-driven approaches with clear and direct objectives enable a level playing field for all candidates and employees.
Black History Month is a great time to address systemic barriers and bias in your workplace and design hiring and retention processes that foster a diverse and inclusive workplace culture. My favorite blink for all things revolutionizing your hiring practices is Hire With Your Head.
If revitalizing your company culture is something you want to do, focusing on creating a diverse and inclusive workplace environment and doing awareness months right is key. Remember, the positive and long-lasting impact goes beyond meeting quotas and benchmarks during Black History Month. Values-led leaders are courageous, walk their talk, and do better business all year round.
Dannique Blake has paved her way to becoming a radical HR and Organizational Development Specialist. Founder of Cultured Insights, Dannique has spent the last 16 years partnering with early-stage and scaling organizations designing working cultures that support speedy growth and retaining people. With her straight-talking and clarity, Dannique blends the latest DEI and personal development insights with practical HR and corporate design and development techniques.
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Download this free ebook where Mertcan shares their seven-step framework to ensure your organization’s next D&I project is a success! Inside you’ll also find three shareable modules for self-education on Systemic Racism, Pride & LGBTQIA+, and Anti-Asian Racism & Violence to share with your team.