How to Make Black History Month Matter: Moving Beyond Diversity and Inclusion Statements to Diversity Actions

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We can honor Black History Month now and every day by tackling issues in the workplace. In this post, we learn how to create diversity and inclusion statements and put them into action.

How to Make Black History Month Matter: Moving Beyond Diversity Statements to Diversity Actions

As a gentle reminder:  Black history isn’t just something we celebrate with some picture we post on our social media. No, Black history is created daily by the people we know. With the ones we work for and with. And sometimes by those we love and are related to. Last week, I wrote “How to Make Black History Month Matter: Addressing Inequity in Hiring” as part of my Black History Month series. This week, I am continuing my exploration of ways institutions and companies can make Black History Month matter in real ways to their staff and clients.

This is the third in a series of posts about how to make Black History Month matter in your workplace or organization; it will address ways to move from diversity statements to diversity actions in the workplace.

Starting with a Clear Vision…

Company and organizational mission statements should speak to the reason a company exists and how it hopes it will impact the world. But in a society that centers White people as the default client and worker, by using inequitable hiring and pay practices, we should make explicit our commitment to working towards equity. This starts with a diversity and inclusion statement.

According to Emily Heaslip, in the trade magazine for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “A great [diversity and inclusion] statement triangulates with your company’s mission, vision, and values. What do you want to say about your business, and what do you want employees and customers to know about your values?”

While there are no real templates on create a diversity and inclusion statement, it should connect with your company or organization vision and mission. What equity work is necessary in your organization? Who is your audience – your workers, your clients, or both? How will the statement be used in guiding your work?

Avoiding Common Mistakes

Julie Kratz, CEO at Next Pivot Point, suggests that companies can avoid making mistakes introducing a diversity inclusion statement by implementing the following steps:

  • Create an “enrollment process” as part of the vision: Ask for your employees’ buy-in and include them in crafting your D&I statement.
  • Include elements of the D&I statement in hiring, onboarding, and employee performance reviews.
  • Revisit the statement and strategy at least once a year, if not more often, to reiterate your commitment and make sure all employees are aligned.
  • Implement some key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the statement and strategy’s success.

It should go without saying that adding the creation of these documents shouldn’t fall on the marginalized or under-represented staff in your organization. Being Black in the workplace shouldn’t be the only qualification to ask staff to be part of statement development. Be mindful of who and how people are invited to be part of the process.

…And Moving to Action

So now your company has (or has had) a diversity and inclusion statement. Now what? For many organizations, this is just the beginning of the work. Because the Black folks in your organization may be feeling all types of emotions from the aftermaths of the past year (or longer).

Charlene Wheeless, former principal VP and manager of corporate affairs at Bechtel, implored chief communications officers and other C-suite leaders to help their workforces. She said, “When people are this frightened, bringing their authentic self to work, being productive, and pretending like everything is OK are the last things on their minds. When you look like me and my brown and black brothers and sisters, the only thing on your mind is will you be allowed to live? When you walk out the door each day, will you return, and will you be the same as when you left? That is the burden we carry every day.” 

Create an Employee Resource Group (ERG)

Alica Forneret, in Culture Amp, suggests that companies need to create spaces for staff to share experiences with peers within their own community. She shares that “creating an ERG could provide your colleagues with safe spaces to connect, find community, share resources, and vent. They are also a space for people to strategize to create change within an organization. But before you start an ERG, look into how you can make them safe spaces for people. Just starting a private channel won’t be enough, so here are a few articles about how to start and support ERGs:”

Reach Out (And Sit in the Discomfort)

Karlyn Percil-Mercieca, the CEO of KDPM Consulting Group, offers useful conversation prompts you can use to open up a dialogue with racially diverse employees. She adds, “Not saying anything is saying loudly that Black lives don’t matter. If you are uncomfortable with this, then you are on the right track. “

  • I’ve seen the news, and I don’t know what it’s like to see Black lives of loved ones killed and threatened daily. Let me know how I can support you.
  • I know that racism and anti-Black racism exist in Canada and I will do my part to do better, starting today.
  • I’m here to listen.
  • I’ve donated to x organization, if there are a few others you’d like to suggest, let me know.
  • How can I be helpful to you?
  • What would support look like for you?
  • Is there someone else you would like to speak to other than me? (Having someone who looks like you eases that burden of emotional tax and gives an immediate sense of “being seen and heard.” Ensure that there are racially and culturally diverse wellness practitioners in your EAP – Employee Assistance Program offerings to increase relatability.)
  • How can I make your day easier?
  • I don’t want to assume that you are okay or that you are not – I want you to know that I am here for anything you need.

Leading with Empathy

Forneret also suggests that organization leaders understand how to lead with empathy. She suggests that, if possible, leaders should create a guide for working while grieving: “These issues are of course deeply connected and interrelated, and thousands of black employees across the nation this week are in the unenviable position of simultaneously grieving and holding space for the grief of others, all the while knowing that it’s only a matter of time before they’re made aware of the next human turned hashtag,” says Willie Jackson. One of the hardest things about grieving is finding the words to express exactly what you’re experiencing. Providing grief support to your team can help them start articulating their needs and capacity.

Connecting Commitment to Action

We have a unique opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to our diversity and inclusion statements. Because we know that hiring practices can be inequitable, we could find out if the staff we are offered to interview have the skills to advance our stated mission. And when possible, my questions would center on asking all candidates how they planned to advance this mission.

Back in the day, when I was invited to interview candidates for Student Affairs positions, I would often ask diversity-related questions. Two of my favorites to ask were:

  • “Within our community, we value diversity and inclusion. Can you identify one way you have personally addressed diversity and inclusion as an act – something you did or said – that advanced this idea in your own work? For instance, a policy you found to be discriminatory or ways to include more people in a hiring pool?”
  • “All of us bring multiple identities into our work and I am curious how you have worked to address any implicit bias based on any dominant or one-up identities that showed up in your work. Can you talk about your experiences self-reflecting on implicit bias and if possible, give an example on when you recognized your bias and how you worked to change it?

If I wasn’t able to change the questions, I would always ask a simple version of these questions; “Can you talk about about your commitment to inclusion and diversity in your previous work and how you would bring a similar commitment to this position?”

Holding Yourself Accountable

Forneret asserts that Black and other people of color are not responsible for doing the work of educating your workforce, especially without extra compensation for work outside of their job descriptions. She continues, “It is NOT your BIPOC (and especially not your Black) employees’/coworkers’/etc. job to explain things to you. Remember, they’re not getting paid for it. In fact, asking them to do so is burdening them further.”

She adds, “When you accept that you might have to figure things out on your own, you should also accept that you won’t get everything right. And you have to be ok with that. You might still – despite your good intentions – say hurtful, racist, sexist, homophobic, or ignorant things. This is not a time for you to get paralyzed by imperfection, but rather it’s a time to be inspired and shows effort.”

Below are her suggested readings, courses, and other learning tools:

Teach yourself about Whiteness, White fragility, and racism:
Forfeit a company-wide happy hour, stand-up, or all-hands to “unlearn” together:
Read, listen, or watch:

Continuing Your Education: Moving Beyond Diversity Statements to Diversity Actions

About Post Author

Joseph Rios, EdD

I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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