How to host meaningful diversity and inclusion conversations in the workplace
I am thankful to work for a company that embraces diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging (DEIB) and honors Black History Month. Throughout my career, I have found myself supporting grassroots diversity efforts even before its evolution to what DEIB has become today. Currently, I have the honor to serve as a leader in this space. It’s a part of my passion and an extension of my purpose. In today’s post, I’m pulling from experience and fact- finding to share ways to host meaningful diversity and inclusion conversations in the workplace.
February is not only my birthday month (YAY!) but also the month set aside to acknowledge the contributions of African Americans, amplify the voices of those who still struggle, and to learn about often untold aspects of American history. There are several ways to honor Black History Month in the workplace. In fact, I believe companies should strive to create inclusive workplaces by offering programming and communication in support of heritage months, cultural holidays, and historical acknowledgments.
Honoring Black History Month in the Workplace
While the contributions of African Americans can be and should be celebrated year-round, February can serve as an opportunity to honor, acknowledge, and educate.
“…seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”Gerald Ford, Officially Recognizing Black History Month in 1976
I’ve curated, led, and provided thought leadership for Black History Month programming. Here are three categories of event types we will discuss, and I’ll also share some specific event ideas.
- Collaborative Community Building
- Action Oriented
These categories also provide a great framework for hosting meaningful diversity and inclusion conversations in the workplace beyond Black History Month.
Educational conversations are designed to share information and to foster a sense of appreciation and understanding. These dialogues can pull from current events, research studies, historical moments, and employee experiences.
Some great examples include education posts on the company’s internal website, chats on the company’s communication channels, panel discussions, and external speakers. To add a unique twist to the conversation, you can incorporate a trivia challenge. Trivia challenges add a dose of healthy competition and fun for all.
Local black history is a great starting point. Think about the community in which your company operates. I’m sure there’s a rich history and probably “little known history” that can be shared. Similarly, many communities have colleges and universities nearby. Professors who teach and/or research African American history are speaker options for panel discussions and events.
Collaborative Community Building
I love to see various affinity groups (also known as Employee Resource Groups, Networks, etc.) come together for a common cause. I attended a DE&I Conference late last year that focused on the continued evolution of DE&I and workplace diversity networks. One of the many sessions I enjoyed, focused on collaboration.
Collaborating to host discussions ensures that all voices are heard and that everyone feels welcome to participate and contribute. To me, this is inclusion in action. It does not take away from the cause or topic of the moment; in this case, Black History Month. Instead it amplifies efforts and creates a broader reach.
If you are reading this and your workplace does not have a resource group, network or affinity group for black professionals or professionals of color, I encourage you to advocate for or to start one. You can take grassroots, bottoms- up approach, or top- down approach by seeking out executive sponsorship for this endeavor. They create a much- needed workplace community.
Action- Oriented Conversations
As people of color, we know where we’ve come from and the struggles our ancestors faced. We must also acknowledge current challenges. Even in the year 2022.
Action- oriented conversations are reflective as well as forward- focused. I believe with companies leading the way to provide psychologically safe workplaces, employees are better able to communicate concerns. In order to host meaningful dialogue, participants must feel safe and willing to do so. By acting on these concerns, companies are able to bring the conversation full circle and experience meaningful results.
Looking for a place to start?
I was re-reading the McKinsey women in the workplace 2021 report the other day. The below excerpt caught my attention as a possible Black History Month discussion point.
“Women of color face similar types and frequencies of microaggressions as they did two years ago—and they remain far more likely than White women to be on the receiving end of disrespectful and “othering” behavior. And while more White employees see themselves as allies to women of color, they are no more likely than last year to speak out against discrimination, mentor or sponsor women of color, or take other actions to advocate for them. This points to the critical need for businesses to equip employees at all levels to challenge bias and show up as allies.”
Source – Women in the Workplace | McKinsey
Let’s take this excerpt for example. What action steps that can be taken to address this statistic? Hint, the last sentence provides some suggestions.
To wrap it up…
The contributions of African Americans to history should be recognized year-round. Yes, but February serves as a dedicated time to collectively acknowledge, educate, and celebrate African American culture and contributions. We should honor Black History Month in our homes and workplaces.
Further, hosting meaningful diversity and inclusion conversations in the workplace is imperative. It displays good corporate citizenship, fosters a sense of belonging, and so much more. During the month of February and beyond, continue to educate, and collaborate to build community, and have action-oriented conversations around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
Leave me a comment and let me know what you are doing at work to honor Black History Month.
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