5 Things DE&I Professionals Wish You'd Do After Black History Month
Full disclosure: I am a Black woman, but just because I'm a person of color and a professional at an organization doesn't mean I should be volunteered to lead diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. It's the emotional labour we often don't talk about for Black folks in the workplace.
Consulting with the community you'd like to support is a step in the right direction but please take heed, your Black professionals should not be held to the fire of initiating or leading DE&I goals to represent a diverse group that is also bursting with intersectionality. And especially on any given Black History Month. It may be the reason for the insurgence of massive DE&I hires or the motive behind why these types of committees are assembled. It's the ability for everyone (from the CEO to the custodian) to champion the causes of diverse people. Because—we're tired.
Diversity is a team sport. Equity is having a cake and being able to eat it too. Inclusion is never having to experience always being picked last.
Therefore, in full transparency, I will not be tackling this issue alone. I consulted with DE&I professionals on this hot topic, and here's what they recommend companies should do after celebrating Black History Month 2021.
1. They want your DE&I goals to be baked into all parts of the company. And not something that just sits with HR.
“If you’re only looking at D&I, DE&I goals during the month of February then you have a huge problem—because it means all and any of your initiatives will be entirely performative.
You would be using the theme of Black History Month to appear that you’re in solidarity with this community. Furthermore, DE&I isn’t just about your Black employees. There are so many identities that we need to educate each other about, including LGBTQ employees and those who aren't able-bodied. And every single employee wants to feel a sense of belonging, no matter their background. That’s why DE&I has to be baked into all parts of the company. It’s not something that just sits with HR.
Before setting goals, a company needs to ask some tough questions about the racial atmosphere in their workplace culture. Most companies send out pulse surveys but almost never ask questions directly related to micro-aggressions, for example. You have to assess what’s actually happening in your company before you go setting goals because you might end up prioritizing the goals that make you comfortable instead of the ones that need urgent attention.”
- Camille Dundas, DE&I consultant who specializes in anti-racism and allyship, and is the co-founder of Canada’s largest Black Canadian online magazine, ByBlacks.com.
“Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a great avenue to cultivate an inclusive environment. By putting in place mentoring, networking, and recruiting opportunities along with providing a safe space for black employees to connect and celebrate Black history and culture.”
- Samira H. Diallo – D&I advocate, ERG leader and IT Manager at Capgemini
2. They want you to be committed to dismantling barriers in the form of policies and practices
“Companies need to go beyond Black History Month to amplify the voices, experiences and contributions of Black people in Canadian society and Black Americans.
Colonization is the foundation of these countries and has created our society's conditions, which has encouraged anti-Black racism to infiltrate all of our institutions. The historical legacy of anti-Black racism has a strong undercurrent of white supremacy that functions to maintain this hierarchy of power and privilege in which white people benefit above all others in society. If the aim of these DE&I programs is to uplift Black voices, create change, and promote equity in our society, then this work needs to be intentionally strategic throughout the year. It requires companies to be committed to dismantling barriers in the form of policies and practices that act to prevent Black people from finding success and thriving in our society.”
- Karamjit Sangha-Bosland, Equity and Inclusive Educator and Racial Justice Advocate at the Simaya Foundation.
As also a Black-owned business, I have first-hand experience with companies who’ve made an effort to support the communities that use their products. One being TikTok. When I launched an e-commerce brand, The SIE Fund that builds capital for womxn-led businesses in 2020, it got me entangled in the #ShopBlack campaigns before and during Black History Month. I reached out to Yinka Taiwo-Peters, Founder of the TikTok Support Black Businesses initiative to share how they drive company-wide DE&I goals.
"Year-round, TikTok continues to champion Black-owned businesses through the Support Black Businesses (SBB) program, which was founded in 2020. Based on feedback from our creators and business owners in the TikTok community, we offer in-app amplification campaigns, business education, ad credits, and more to Black-owned businesses. We encourage other organizations to look for feedback within the communities that they serve and scale support through equity-driven initiatives beyond certain moments in time."
3. They want your DE&I goals to be regarded with the same esteem as growth and revenue
“Much to the dismay of marketing and public relations professionals everywhere, the real work in being an ally will be done in the dark, and impactful change more often than not—happens internally rather than consumer-facing.
The two most important things I have learned are that one-off training is not enough, and DE&I goals should be regarded with the same esteem as growth, revenue, and household penetration. The kind of change we need to see requires long-range strategic planning, a table of stakeholders from the top down, and resources to fuel organizational change.
The challenging part can be figuring out how to measure “success” in this space. While I think it varies across organizations, ideally, leaders should ask themselves this question: Can every employee in my organization explain why we value diversity, equity, and inclusion? If the answer is no, it is likely because these organizational goals are unclear, undeliverable under current systems, or not communicated across teams.”
- Stephanie Pagan, Consumer Experience Specialist, DEI lead and the chair of internal committees at Perfect Snacks.
4. They want your DE&I strategy to be globally relevant, locally responsive, and robustly resourced
“Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) must be organizational imperatives, meaning that they are not nice-to-haves, they are must-haves. DE&I needs to animate a company's mission and not be ancillary to it.
Every single person, from intern through to executive, must be guided by a DE&I strategy that is globally relevant, locally responsive, and robustly resourced. The goal is to create organizations that reflect the world in which we live across all dimensions of diversity where employees feel a true sense of belonging.
To do this, let's stop with the platitudes and start with the plans. Let's ensure that Black Lives Matter every month and not just during Black History Month. Let's ensure that intersectional inclusion is at the heart of our programming. And let's ensure that discomfort is not a barrier to progress. Because if we are truly going to make a difference, we have to start doing things differently. There is no time to waste.”
- Prasanna Ranganathan, Senior Lead, Diversity and Belonging, Shopify (pronouns: he/him)
Speaking of no time to waste on a DE&I strategy. Have you seen this tweet that has been circulating on the internet of the blatant performative endeavours of an organization during Coretta Scott King's History Month? It was so ridiculous that instead of rage, people mostly felt second-hand embarrassment for the company's ignorance on public display.
5. They want you to know what Black History Month is and isn’t
“Let’s talk about what BHM is and isn’t. Black History Month is a great time to:
- Highlight the unique experiences and challenges of the Black communities where your colleagues exist.
- Highlight Black role models we all can learn from.
- Dive deeper into the Black stories shared, so we can continue to ensure our allyship is useful.
What Black History Month is not, however, is an opportunity to compress what should be ongoing work—to create safe, happy spaces for Black and other PoC to thrive in—into 28 days. When organizations do that, they are betraying their lack of understanding about what it takes to bring about meaningful change. Your Black colleagues don’t need your understanding and support just in February—if you truly want them to bring their whole selves to work, you need to dismantle the systems that are holding them back or forcing them to make themselves smaller at work. And that is hard, humbling and continuous work that should never stop.”
- Puneet Sandhu, Communications and DE&I Executive
If we can walk away with anything from the above recommendations shared by these DE&I Professionals is that the work starts internally first, so that you don’t exploit or piggyback off of external social inequality campaigns or heritage celebrations. Happy Black History Month to everyone!
Ten Thousand Coffees is working to put these changes into action. Learn how you can host Office Hour events at scale, and enable Black leaders to share their experiences. By doing so, you give Black employees equitable access to leadership and ensure that their voices are heard. Get in touch with our team today to learn more.