How do we build a more inclusive workplace? Recently, corporate DEI initiatives have been front and center, with companies pledging to turn their support of #BlackLivesMatter into action and meaningful change. How companies celebrate and acknowledge Black History Month is a critical part of this process.
February is a time to focus on black joy and accomplishments. It’s a reminder that Black History is much more than slavery and the struggle for civil rights. Black History is American history. Acknowledging this reality is an essential first step for all companies. Let’s normalize having ongoing conversations about acceptance, equality, and Black culture all year long— just like we should for AAPI, Latinx, and LGBTQ communities.
But acknowledgment is just the first step. From amplifying Black voices to reviewing your diversity spending, these are five actionable steps your company can take this month:
Highlight today’s change-makers.
When we talk about history, it’s tempting for some to think, “That issue happened 50 or 100 years ago. We’ve moved on.” But this thinking does not align with reality. Today’s inequalities are rooted in yesterday’s discriminatory policies, like redlining, with their disastrous impact on homeownership opportunities, property taxes, education access, and environmental justice. We need to expand how we think about history to include the contemporary change-makers who are quite literally making history happen by working to right these wrongs. What laws are being debated or passed in your community and state government that impact social justice? What community groups are advocating on behalf of more equitable and inclusive representation? This Black History Month is an opportunity for businesses to do more than share a handful of well-known Black historical figures; let’s talk about the leaders who are making the change happen right now.
Amplify Black voices.
While the burden of education should never be on your Black employees, handing them the microphone to talk about their lived experience— if they want to— is an important choice to offer. At Lucas Group, our leadership is organizing a BHM panel as a platform for colleagues to share and spark discussion. These conversations are critical because the Black community is not a monolith. More than 46 million people identify as Black. While united by how our skin color is interpreted in America, my personal experiences are inherently different from my colleagues’ experiences. My Black colleagues, together with individuals who identify as BIPOC, have experiences worth sharing and celebrating every month, not just in February. Consider how your company can amplify these voices year-round. For example, when business decisions are being made, are a broad spectrum of qualified people at the table? Are these conversations inclusive of their experiences?
Align your values with your spending.
DEI is about more than just employee hiring; it’s also about vendor inclusivity. Lucas Group’s parent company, Korn Ferry, has adopted an Inclusive Supplier program to help create more economic opportunity for the businesses in the program, as well as drive innovation and value for Korn Ferry’s clients, communities and organization as a whole. If your business doesn’t have a supplier diversity policy, now is the time to get one in place. A diverse supplier is classified as an organization that’s owned and operated by a traditionally underrepresented or underserved group, such as minority small businesses (SBEs) and women-owned businesses (WOBs). Supplier diversity programs can have a ripple effect. For example, HBR reports that in 2019 Target spent $1.4 billion on goods or services from diverse suppliers. The company also influenced its first-tier suppliers to spend more than $800,000 with diverse second-tier suppliers. Our choice to promote diverse spending has a ripple effect throughout communities.
Support Black-owned SMBs.
Supplier diversity doesn’t have to be limited to major, recurring contracts. Think about the smaller expenditures your business may have throughout the year, like company-branded swag for new hires or seasonal gifts. Where are these items being purchased? My daughter works for a large retail organization, and last year, the company gave its employees gift certificates to black-owned businesses during Black History Month. Because of the pandemic, the last two years have been especially hard for small businesses. SMBS are often embedded within communities as not only suppliers of goods and services, but also employers. When we talk about supporting Black-owned SMBs, we’re talking about making a direct and meaningfully positive impact in minority communities. Gift certificates to Black-owned SMBs are a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Black History Month and spend in alignment with your values. Keep these businesses in mind throughout the year, too.
Consider your business’s daily role in DEI. As an employee at a staffing firm, my industry is uniquely positioned to affect change. Our recruiters are tasked with finding the best, most talented and qualified candidates for our clients and we do a fantastic job of keeping DEI top of mind during the search process. I can’t think of very many industries or roles that have such a direct impact on the DEI landscape in businesses and boardrooms, both nationally and globally. Even if your business is not a staffing firm, there are likely many ways you can advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in your daily business practices. If you have not done so already, unconscious bias training can be a good starting point, especially when grounded in the broader context of structural racism.
How is your business celebrating Black History Month and taking steps towards a more inclusive workplace? I invite you to share your approach in the comments below.