12 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month With Your Workforce

by Feb 10, 2021

Black History Month is meant to recognize the contributions this community has made to the United States and reflect on our country’s continued struggle with racial injustice. It’s a time for everyone – whether you identify as Black or not – to think about how to actively participate in creating racial justice.
Employers everywhere can help their workforce learn and grow by engaging in thoughtful activities throughout the month (and the year). To that end, below is a list of 12 ideas for you to engage in personally, or to deliver as an initiative to your workforce.
Do keep in mind that demonstrating a whole lot of empathy when introducing these ideas is paramount. Tweeting that your organization honors African Americans while your supervisors, managers and leaders are all white is an example of how one can easily fall into the trap of being tone-deaf. Instead, consider a phased approach that moves from supporting to actually doing. Allyship and justice is a long-term plan, not a one-tweet plan.
Here are 12 ways to lean into Black History Month, in no particular order:
  1. Watch LinkedIn Learning’s three free learning paths, made up of several courses from experts in diversity, equity, inclusivity, and allyship. You don’t need a LinkedIn Premium or LinkedIn Learning account to watch them. They are free for all until March 31.
  2. Read a book by a Black author. Black EnterpriseTEDTalksPrinceton University, and many more sites have a long list of options to explore. Consider asking everyone to read their own choice and then reporting back about what they learned, or assigning one book in order to hold a book club conversation around it with a trained facilitator.
  3. Host a Black film movie night. As with the book, you might pick one movie for everyone to watch on their own time and then host a lunch n’ learn so reactions can be discussed. You could also invite everyone to watch it on Zoom with you (select the option to share audio when sharing your screen) so you can pause it and discuss along the way. Check out this list of movies on DoSomething.org’s website, and you can even locate discussion guides for some of them, such as 13th and I Am Not Your Negro.
  4. Borrow an action from the website, CEOAction.com. This is one of my favorite websites out there. Have a look at the long list of actions submitted by their members to see exactly what they’ve done. Many of these case studies provide enough information that you could implement the same initiative at your own workplace.
  5. Hold a discussion in a safe space. A great way for everyone to learn is to get people of all colors together to talk about the various experiences of people of color. Keep in mind, however, that any person of color participating is doing so at the extraordinary risk of being vulnerable to their co-workers. They may also feel they’re being asked to volunteer their time to educate others. So it’s a good idea to first do some recon to understand if a conversation like this is of interest to your workforce of color. Additionally, it’s important to have a trained facilitator leading the conversation. This can be an emotional and high-conflict conversation, and someone who knows how to manage it will be key to its success.
  6. Donate to a Black organization. Many nonprofits exist to perpetuate and save Black history and culture, promote health and improve medical treatment, support and enforce social reform, build educational opportunities, or promote economic growth and stability for our Black communities. Choose one (or more!) in line with your organizational or personal values and donate away.
  7. Attend any of the many events going on this month. I found some at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Organizations in your local area may have some events of their own, so check them out to support your community. You might also become a corporate member of your local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
  8. Start every meeting off with an educational tidbit. Keep Black History Month alive by starting all staff meetings and team meetings off with something related to the topic. Consider taking lead on researching and sharing something with your managers each morning so that they can share it during the day with their team. For example, your workforce might be interested to know that 1 in 17 white men, versus 1 in 3 Black men, are likely to go to prison. Or that on average, Black men earn $0.87 for every $1 white men make; even when controlled for position and qualifications, Black men still make $0.02 less. That might not seem like much, but compounded over time it adds up.
  9. Conduct an equity audit. Audit your hiring rates, compensation, and promotions – they should be comparable across various groups. Take a look at your organization’s leadership to determine if it’s homogenous or full of diversity. Audit your policies and practices with an eye toward disparate impact and inequity. An audit will be eye opening, and it will also provide a path for social justice in your organization. I found a great list of equity audit templates to get you started.
  10. Provide your workforce with allyship/upstander training. You probably have a workforce full of people who want to speak up when they witness something exclusive happen, like a microaggression or insensitive joke, but don’t know how. Speaking up in those situations is not a natural talent we’re all born with, and even if it was, your workforce is wondering how their manager or employer would support them if they took the leap to allyship. Providing training sends that message of support of allyship, and the right training can deliver tools for doing it well. Our interactive training discusses incivility and microaggressions, addresses getting over the fear of speaking up, and provides a wealth of real-world tools one could use in the moment to protect themselves or a peer from negativity.
  11. Conduct an employee survey that measures perceptions of discrimination, harassment, and inequity. Many organizations are already doing employee engagement surveys – important if you want to measure the level of employee engagement. However, discovering perceptions of inequity or discrimination, trust in leadership’s commitment to equity, or whether some races are more or less engaged than others, requires different measurement tools. CAUTION: Don’t ask these questions unless you’re prepared to address the issues you’ll discover by asking them. That’s why we tailor our surveys for all our clients; because the workforce and the leaders have to be ready to swiftly respond to the survey results.
  12. Use your company’s talents to influence social justice. No matter what your organization’s product or service is, consider how it might positively influence your community. For example, many industries, such as insurance and IT, lack diversity and that makes it difficult for companies in this space to hire from a diverse talent pool. Perhaps your organization can change that by starting a mentorship program for under-represented high school students, hiring interns from under-represented groups at the local college or university, or sponsoring a scholarship. To get you inspired, here’s a cool story about a business coach who created programing in her community.
As for Civility Partners, we fight for employees’ rights to be treated with dignity every single day. However, we’ll be donating to a Black organization this month, and I personally will be attending a variety of virtual events. I’ll also be encouraging my team to engage in all of the ideas laid out in this blog.
It’s not enough to believe you aren’t a racist. Now is a time to listen and learn, empathize, and act.

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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