By Dawnn Adeyemo, ACIA
As we continue to celebrate our Black History Month activities, I can’t help but feel a mixed bag of emotions. Pride in how far we’ve come as a society, sadness about how far we still have to go, and guilt for privileges I’m afforded that many other people who look like me do not have.
Black History Month celebrations shine a bright light on all the accomplishments of the men and women who paved a path for us to be where we are today and reminds us of those in the present who are carrying the torch.
“Black History Month for me comes with the reminder that more work remains to be done and more action needs to be taken to break down institutional barriers and unconscious biases.”
In the past couple of years, support during Black History Month has come in the form of seminars with Black speakers, workshops, lunch and learns, charitable donations and so on. These are all great ways to start the conversation and engage the community on topics that affect Black people, but I find that the conversation rarely continues past this noteworthy introduction. The dialogue as to how we can become a more inclusive society needs to stretch out past the month of February and should be embedded in the way we navigate our lives daily.
That’s not to say that a touching message from a CEO or senior executive during Black History Month is not appreciated and welcomed. However, going the extra step to ensure that there is a felt sense of inclusion and an appreciation of diversity at your organization is what truly bridges the gap between words and actions. This requires a higher level of commitment to changing company policies that do not foster equal treatment for all. I am fortunate to work for an organization that strives to walk the talk by prioritizing diversity, and this is evident in its consistently high ratings on employee engagement surveys with regards to diversity. This is a result of conscious efforts to encourage merit-based hiring with reduced biases.
Another way to initiate change is through mandatory training on what respect in the workplace looks like and what constitutes racial discrimination. Regular discussions about how microaggressions are often perpetrated by well-intentioned individuals (which unfortunately may lead to further discrimination and harassment) can also be enlightening. These conversations and trainings may need to be outsourced and led by professionals in the diversity, equity and inclusion space to maximize the benefits.
“It is important that we recognize and celebrate the contributions of Black people in the past and present every day and not just in the month of February.”
If there are only a few Black people present at your organization to discuss how to celebrate Black History Month, then that’s where the work needs to begin – with the tough but necessary task of reviewing company policies at all levels to increase diversity and taking action to include marginalized people.
A great way to ensure that diversity is maintained as a priority is by including it as part of the code of conduct or values that serve as the base of how an organization operates. When there is a foundation of respect and inclusion, it becomes easier to build on that and cultivate a culture that welcomes everyone.
Black History Month is a time for celebration, but it’s also a time for reflection. It is our responsibility to work towards establishing a society where we don’t need a dedicated month to celebrate Black people, because they are celebrated all year. I am Black 365 days a year, and I have high hopes that we are steadily heading towards a society where Black people as a whole feel celebrated, supported, respected and included year round.
This article reflects the opinion of the author and does not represent an official statement of the CIA.