By Shane L. Lloyd | February 18, 2020
We’re a little over halfway through Black History Month (BHM) and schools, communities, and organizations are using a variety of approaches to recognize the contributions of Black Americans. Google created a captivating and moving video that went viral highlighting the “most searched…” terms which bring up Black innovators, artists, and history makers. Apple’s App Store featured a talented young techie Erika Hairston to celebrate one member of the newest generation of Black leaders who are going to move the industry and the community into the future. Although we have some time left before this federally recognized month comes to a close, there are many ways that organizations can use this time as a launching point to promote ongoing inclusion of Black employees and the Black community. I offer a few thoughts below:
- Make your BHM celebrations expansive.
- February is a great starting point when recognizing the achievements and contributions of the Black community, but it is by no means the only time to do this. Organizations are encouraged to continue this work through programs, initiatives, fireside chats, speakers’ series, and a myriad of other ways to continue honoring the significant contributions of the Black Community.
- In the spirit of expansiveness, take this as an opportunity to not only recognize the accomplishments of Black Americans but also Black people across the globe—the Caribbean, Latin America, the African continent, to name a few. Blackness is transnational and this month provides one of many occasions to help employees see and experience the breadth of diversity within one group.
- Make your BHM events strategic.
- BHM provides a useful launching point to place strategic emphasis on gathering feedback from Black employees through focus groups, 1:1s, stakeholder interviews, etc. This can help organizations keep a finger on the pulse of a diverse community within their organization or gather insights that could improve the services and products offered to a company’s Black customers and clients.
- Conduct a representation audit within your organization. Are Black employees well represented across all segments of your organization (e.g., senior leadership, team leads, people managers, administrative staff, units that are core to the business…)? Or are Black employees concentrated in particular ranks and business segments? If you find that Black employees are not well represented across all sectors, look into why that might be the case and seek out opportunities to level the playing field to ensure your organization is benefiting from the diverse talent.
- Ensure your celebrations are intersectional.
- Kimberlé Crenshaw, a Columbia Law School professor, coined the term intersectionality to illuminate the unique experiences of Black women who were often left out of efforts to address racism, which often times centered on Black men, and initiatives to address sexism, which primarily catered to white women. As a concept, intersectionality elevates social justice conversations by drawing attention to the ways marginalized identities intersect and experience specific consequences related to overlapping social oppressions.
- Intersectionality also widens the base of Black changemakers to commemorate during BHM. Luminaries such as Pauli Murray, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, and the members of the Combahee River Collective not only gave voice to the Black experience but also offered rich and nuanced insight into the wide-ranging class experiences, sexual orientations, and gender identities of members of the Black community.
- Intersectionality as a concept has great utility for organizations because you can apply that lens to drill down and better understand constituencies that may at times be overlooked; namely, Black women, Black LGBTQ employees, Black employees with disabilities…. Twitter offers one example when, in 2017, they named Candi Castleberry-Singleton* Vice President of Intersectionality, Culture, and Diversity. With intersectionality in the title, Twitter has ensured that the intersectional lens and approach can better guide their inclusion and belonging efforts.
- Make your celebrations personal to your organization.
- Many organizations have their own Black trailblazers and pioneers yet those stories tend to disappear once those individuals leave for whatever reason. Recognizing those individuals while they are there or re-surfacing those histories, just like NASA did in parallel with the movie Hidden Figures, offers organizations the opportunity to make BHM deeply personal to their organization.
- Collaborate with your organization’s employee resource groups as a start to identify Black trailblazers and pioneers who are leading in the business and showing others what’s possible for leadership advancement within their organization. Employee resource groups are an especially good place to start because leaders in those groups have chosen to bring visibility to the issues facing the employee populations they represent.
While these insights and strategies offer some potential ways to harness the energy of Black History Month, this list is not exhaustive. Feel free to add your own ideas and share them with us here at Cook Ross by reaching out through firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Black History Month!
*In 2019, Candi Castleberry Singleton transitioned to the Vice President, Diversity Partnership Strategy, and Engagement role within Twitter.
Shane L. Lloyd is a Consultant with Cook Ross. His extensive experience in diversity, inclusion and belonging includes work with Brown University, Yale University, and the Rhode Island Department of Health’s Health Disparities and Access to Care teams. His areas of focus include various dimensions of social identity, expertise in the areas of race and socioeconomic class, and in depth knowledge of research in behavioral economics; psychology; organizational behavior; sociology; and public health.