Every February, Black History Month reminds us to celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans, past and present. But after a challenging year that underscored our country’s challenges with race, privilege, and prejudice, it carries added weight in 2021. The importance of the moment isn’t lost on People teams.
“Black History Month is an opportunity to amplify Black voices, commit and re-commit to anti-racism work, and create shared learning opportunities at your company,” said Vanessa Paige, the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Manager at Hungry Harvest.
Last week, Paige and other HR leaders in the Resources for Humans community shared how they were observing Black History Month at work. Below are just some of the creative ideas discussed.
In addition to celebrating the Black community as a whole, companies are taking the opportunity to learn about its most inspirational figures.
“We’re celebrating the whole month. Members of our diversity and inclusion council, as well as other volunteers throughout the company, have each picked a significant member of the Black community throughout history,” said Jenna Brown, VP of HR at ParkMobile. The company’s employees will discuss each of these during informational lunch-and-learn sessions all month.
Others found creative ways to tie education into their company’s mission. “We’re planning to feature Black voices within government, writing, academics, and sciences,” said M.P. Bausch, People Operations Generalist at NoRedInk. Bausch’s company offers writing tools used in classrooms nationwide, and was uniquely positioned to make an external impact.
“Our curriculum team is creating writing prompts for our students specifically for Black History Month. And we’re inviting our team to use those prompts each week, perhaps to share learnings in discussion groups,” Bausch said.
Opportunities for employees to connect are still few and far between. Sensing an opportunity to both celebrate Black history and bring employees together, HR teams planned a month’s worth of games, activities, and educational sessions.
Rather than just share just one or two ideas with the rest of the community, Paige shared her organization’s entire Black History Month schedule.
“We have a whole month of events planned. We’re organizing a book club, podcast club, virtual month-long game of bingo, and a Black-led cooking class for staff,” Paige said. In addition to those events, the Hungry Harvest team is also organizing dedicated DE&I office hours, TED talk screenings, and other interactive events.
Movie screenings were another popular option, with community members suggesting Hidden Figures, Trial of Chicago 7, Selma, and other films. Remote teams were also planning to use Netflix’s Teleparty feature to accommodate screenings and generate discussion in real time.
“We’re featuring a screening of the 13TH documentary for National Freedom Day to commemorate the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery,” said Tara Turk-Haynes, Vice President of DE&I and Talent Management at Leaf Group. “We’re going to have an informal virtual follow-up chat, highlighting how our media and marketplace brands are highlighting Black voices,” Turk-Haynes said.
While the pandemic has challenged businesses of all sizes and across every sector, some have been disproportionately affected. Research by the University of California, Santa Cruz and the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 41% of Black-owned businesses have closed since the start of the pandemic. The same research showed that just 17% of white-owned businesses closed.
Shifting focus from Black history to the present day, some are doing what they can to support Black-owned businesses.
“We’re doing a showcase for Black-owned businesses, in partnership with our ‘Black at Uber’ employee resource group,” said Amy Contreras, Head of L&D at Uber Freight. “We’re really excited about it. This is our first time doing this type of virtual showcase,” Contreras said. Others in the community encouraged teams to call out their favorite businesses on Slack, going as far as to offer a Black-owned purchase stipend.
Paige and the Hungry Harvest team found another creative (and on-brand) way to support businesses and bring employees together for some culinary team building. “We’re also organizing a virtual potluck where the team is ordering from Black-owned businesses or making recipes created by Black chefs,” Paige said. “Black History Month is so much more than just recognizing Black people throughout history. It can be a way to engage with Black culture, art, food, and media.”
Community members shared dozens of creative ways to honor Black culture and history. But the occasion wasn’t just a time for celebration. Above all, HR leaders encouraged each other to look inward and consider how they could make an impact.
“What else are you doing to make your workplace, and the world, better for Black folks?” Paige asked. “Has anyone done an equity assessment? And if your company has very few Black people...then it’s a good time to find out why and make changes in your culture and hiring process or bring in a consultant to do just that.”
Action, Paige argued, was the surest way for HR teams to show allyship — no matter what month it was.
To learn how other HR professionals are observing Black History Month, join the Resources for Humans Slack community.