Black History Month (BHM) is here and with many of us still working remotely (thanks COVID!), you may be wondering how you can celebrate within your business. BHM is all about recognising the contributions of black people as well as driving connection and a better understanding of how we can better integrate our cultures and opportunities as working communities- in 2022 this remains more necessary than ever. The prospect of doing it all remotely may have you feeling like postponing or scaling down your plans but there's no need because with a few adjustments you can still have a successful and meaningful Black History Month celebration - whatever your budget.
1. Find your advocates
You may have an employee network in place, if so work with them to develop a program or sense check your ideas. If you don't have this in place, use your company intranet or enterprise social networking to find people who are passionate about BHM and want to be part of making it happen.
Ultimately, BHM should work for your people, so get together and find out what's most important to them. You should aim to celebrate culture, contribution and achievements, educate colleagues and help normalise talking about race in the workplace.
2. Thought-provoking conversations
Many people may be thinking about external speakers, although at this point in time many will already be booked.
If you have the budget then go for it but you also have people in your organisation who can be just as impactful, if not more so.
If your advocates or network members are comfortable sharing their experiences, then facilitated conversations that can be pre-recorded or hosted with an audience over a video call can be very powerful. Lived experiences and storytelling can really bring it to life for people whose only interaction with black people is 'Janelle in AP'.
Facilitate these conversations by setting the ground rules - not challenging a person's experience of being overly defensive. The benefit of using video conferencing is that you can use the chat function to prompt dialogue or allow direct questions to the facilitator which can be beneficial to introverts.
3. Connecting through music and food
Music and food go hand in hand and are embedded in black culture.
Unfortunately, we can't do catering but instead, how about hosting a virtual cookout? Ask members of your Black community to share some of their favourite recipes and employees can then try to recreate the dish at home and post a picture of the finished product, or you can do a Zoom / Hangout and cook along together.
We can also learn so much about people through music and so why not try curating Spotify playlists with themes such as 'what mum and dad listened to', 'house party' and 'sounds of South Africa'. With each playlist, ask members of the organisation to share what their song means to them.
4. Get social
In the physical office space, we'd be using visual cues such as screens, posters or decorations but while working remotely the intranet and any social enterprise site, or even internal communications are your best tool for keeping the drumbeat going throughout BHM. You can post facts, articles or spotlight black pioneers and role models in your industry or organisation. Custom Zoom / VC backgrounds are also a great way of signposting in meetings. If you use blogs, why not ask people to blog about their experiences or what BHM means to them.
While you might usually put on a lunch session or after-hours gathering, it's fairly straightforward to turn these into remote events. Try hosting a movie night or holding a book club and if you're not all quizzed out, a virtual black history Pub Quiz that teams can engage with over video call with a prize can be a fun way to connect with colleagues.
5. Policy and inclusion progress transcends all other support
Last and by no means least is to find ways to make BHM meaningful for your Black employees - shine a light on their achievements - set up mentoring and sponsorship opportunities or create safe spaces for conversation to advance inclusion.
As of this time, most would acknowledge that commitments and conversations about racial equity and inclusion are inconsistent. There are still difficult conversations to be held around the inequality
faced by Black people at a macro level, outside of the comfort zone of Ethnic Employee Network Groups. A few recent figures to highlight this:
Racially diverse people are losing out on '3.2bn a year in wages compared to non-ethnically diverse colleagues.
Racially diverse people are more likely to be diagnosed and admitted for poor mental health conditions but experience the poorest outcomes from treatment and are disproportionately detained.
Less than a third of businesses (31 per cent) publish their ethnicity pay gap, despite 63 per cent of employers saying they monitor it. It remains unchanged for almost 7 years.
Black African women have a mortality rate four times higher than white women in the UK.
Racially motivated hate crimes increased by 37% in one recent year.
Around 13% of the working-age population are racially diverse, yet we hold just six per cent of top management positions.
For many years now, it has been illegal to discriminate against anyone because of their race or ethnic group. However, the above depicts clear barriers to inclusion for certain people based on nothing more than the colour of their skin or the pronunciation of their name. This must change. Black History Month is a great time to restate your commitment to inclusion as an organisation and to launch new programmes and policies that further protect the equitable outcomes of your Black colleagues.