Why Is It Important to Celebrate Black History Month at Work?
The incredible thing about the movement for racial justice over this past year was how far-reaching the conversation spread. The murder of George Floyd was a match that lit the oil of racial injustice and inequality that has seeped into every aspect of our society – that has risen to the surface after lying underneath it all along. Systemic racism became a phrase that was known in social justice circles to one being widely discussed everywhere from cable news, living rooms, Instagram feeds, and yes, our workplaces.
Understanding the Moment
Activists, journalists, and thinkers have not only helped us to understand this current movement but have also helped connect the dots between these tragedies and the systems established long ago. By investigating our policies, schools, organizations, and our own selves we can understand what we have inherited, what we have changed, and what work there is still to do.
It is interesting to imagine how we would have seen these discussions manifest if we were working in proximity to one another like in the pre-pandemic “normal.” Of course, nothing about this summer was normal. For many it was the isolation itself that gave us the time to sit with these ideas like never before; to not turn away because there was no happy hour, no party, no commute to pull our attention.
This Black History Month, for many of us, our history has never felt so present. For many Black Americans the burden of history has weighed heavily in a year of Black pain, trauma, and images of violence against Black men and women placed front and center. For White and non-black Americans there has been a call to look inward in order to take action in the world, moving from awareness of privilege to dismantling the systems that created and uphold it.
Taking Action at Work
This Black History Month you and your company have an opportunity to turn the past year’s learnings into impact.
For instance, you may be able to give nonprofits and organizations with Black leaders and that support Black communities through funding or volunteerism. A 2020 report analyzing nonprofit revenue among some of our most innovative and promising young nonprofits, showed that Black led organizations are 24% smaller and have 76% less in unrestricted net-assets, the kind of funding that shows trust from donors and allows organizations to pursue growth, than white-led counterparts.
You can make an impact by inviting Black speakers and youth into your workplace and create space to listen to and celebrate Black voices, Black art, the Black experience, and Black contributions to your field.
If you are in a position of leadership, look at how you can address the racial pay and leadership gaps within your own company and industry. There are experts in this work who know how to set goals for inclusion grounded in real equity and how to help you achieve them, many of them are Black: pay them and listen to them. Make changes within your department if you cannot make them as a company. Use your Employee Resource Group, whatever the focus, to explore racial bias and intersectionality. Lead by example.
Why the Workplace Matters
There are few places where the dynamics of power and privilege are more on display than at work. After all, the workplace is the engine of economic opportunity in a nation where the wealth of the average black family is ten times less than that of the average white family.
Organizations also hold some of the greatest influence over our culture, political priorities, and what we value at large. This year workplaces have the opportunity to be places of not only empathy for the experience of their Black employees, but of action to address those underlying inequalities (such as: the racial pay gap, the racial-gender pay gap, and the way Covid-19 has impacted unemployment across racial lines), and ultimately be a force for social good.
These gaps are built from many years of exclusion and limited opportunity for Black Americans and the need to address them is urgent. And doing so at work is one of the most direct ways to make an impact.
What we can do this year is not only look back, but look squarely at the present. We can take stock of the moment we have before us and peer inside to see how we can rise to it. Investigating our own privilege allows us to recognize what opportunity we have to create change, to ask what power we hold and how we have chosen to use it. The role we must each play in building a more just future is our own.
Cover photo courtesy of Emilio Garcia