Black history is more than just slavery and the civil rights movement. It’s being made as we speak.
All too often, when it comes to Black history, we look only to the past, acknowledging extraordinary leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Frederick Douglass. While it’s important to honor the shoulders we stand on, now is the perfect time to acknowledge and appreciate how the leaders of today are making a big impact in the business world. Whether an employee is a top-level executive or simply a staffer, this month — and year-round — you can and should show appreciation for your Black employees in the following ways.
Highlight their contributions
In business, we know that leaders are often depicted as white and male, but the proportion of African-American leaders in all sectors of the business world is rising. Turning the spotlight on modern-day Black leadership and paying attention to their contributions is a powerful way to acknowledge Black excellence in your business.
Consider spotlighting (with permission of course) Black leaders in your company. Showcase what impact their leadership has had on the business, what they’re working on now and what they plan to accomplish in the coming year.
If you don’t have a ton of Black leaders in your business, work hard to change that, but in the interim think about what other Black employees are doing good work that’s often unrecognized. Offer to share their accomplishments, accolades and achievements company-wide — not just this month, but throughout the year.
No matter how big or small a Black staffer’s role may be, all employees can benefit from seeing present-day Black excellence living and breathing throughout the organization. Representation matters, and for many Black staffers, there’s a hunger to see people who look like them recognized for their contributions at a company-wide level. Highlighting Black excellence can be a powerful way to foster an environment of belonging and appreciation all year long.
Remove the burden on Black employees to plan Black History Month
In your organization, who typically manages Black History Month programming? Is it the chief diversity officer? The HR department? Or a lone Black employee? Whoever it may be, it’s worth acknowledging that the weight of planning Black History Month is heavy, and often falls on the shoulders of those who are most impacted, like women and people of color. It’s time for a shift in that paradigm.
Instead of tapping the lone Black employee in the office, whose job may not be in the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) department at all, consider consulting with that employee instead. By that I mean get their feedback on what they would like to see or experience during Black History Month. But not without doing your own homework first. Gather feedback from Black employees that can inform Black History Month without expecting them to execute the activities. Ask if they would like to see a certain speaker keynote at a company event or if they would appreciate a private luncheon with other Black employees. Would a day off be appreciated instead of a busy day of activities?
Additionally, there’s a unique opportunity for leadership (whether they identify as Black or not) to be initiators of programs that center Black excellence. They can learn to acknowledge the contributions of Black employees in a way that puts those employees in control of choosing what appreciation looks like for them. The ultimate goal is to help Black employees feel supported without overwhelming them with the burden of doing all the work.
Encourage non-Black employees to educate themselves
Black history is happening right now. Every month, there’s a new book being released by a Black author, a Netflix special directed by a Black creator, and a conference with a Black keynote. It’s time that non-Black employees take the initiative to educate themselves without putting the burden on Black employees to be educators.
For example, one of my friends, Minda Harts, published a book called “Right Within: How to Heal from Racial Trauma in the Workplace” that shows women of color and people who manage women of color how to navigate workplace trauma in a thoughtful way. This book is a great self-education tool to learn how to support Black employees who may be experiencing workplace trauma.
Another fabulous Black mind is that of Issa Rae. She’s the writer and producer of “Insecure“ and “Awkward Black Girl.” She uses media and storytelling to tell Black stories in a modern way. Your employees and millions of others can access her work on several platforms.
Finally, a connection I have on LinkedIn, Madison Butler, shared a post highlighting a list of 2,000 plus Black speakers available nationwide. Whether it’s Black History Month or not, there are hundreds of speakers across disciplines that are ready to share their expertise and insights. All they need is an invitation from your organization with a commitment to pay them what they are worth.
All this to say, if your business and its employees wish to educate themselves on the present-day Black experience, the resources are abundant.
Partner with Black-Owned businesses and organizations
From retail brands to consulting firms, there is a plethora of businesses that are looking for allies and partners. Using your business’ resources and directing them towards Black-owned businesses isn’t an act of charity; it’s an act of solidarity. Oftentimes, what Black businesses lack isn’t a quality product or service — it’s opportunity and partnerships. Making the conscious choice to redirect funds that would otherwise be spent with a non-Black business can build solidarity, enhance Black resiliency and increase economic opportunity.
Invest in your Black employees’ growth and development
If your company has Black employees who have great potential but for some reason aren’t climbing the corporate ladder, there could be a discrepancy in opportunity. One way to find out if your company has systems that disadvantage Black employees is to dig deeper and look under the hood of the business.
One good example is about one of my larger national clients who decided to look deeper at what’s holding their Black executive staff back from advancement and a sense of belonging. This client conducted a survey that underscored how the lived experience of African-American women in their company was vastly different than other groups of workers. They wanted to bridge the gap, so they did something they’ve never done before: They invested a significant amount of money into an executive coaching program for their most senior Black women leaders. They put those leaders into a cohort where they each received executive coaching, monthly recurring sessions, peer-to-peer support, and more. My consultancy was a part of their leadership program, and we helped the executives create monthly learning experiences that addressed pressing issues like overcoming impostor syndrome, homing in on personal branding, and implementing a radical self-care routine.
Investing in your Black staff is a worthwhile endeavor. Explore where your business may be leaving Black employees wanting more and choosing to invest in their success and advancement as the year goes on.
Going beyond Black history and centering Black excellence in the present day can look different for every organization, but the ways mentioned above are good places to start. When thinking through this concept, return to the question: What can my business do that’s meaningful to Black employees? Consider how encouraging non-Black employees to educate themselves, seeking feedback from Black staffers, and investing in the success of Black employees can make a measurable difference. If your organization truly cares about Black history, focus on meaningful strategic steps that can lead to more opportunity and acknowledgment for the Black people in your organization.
This story first appeared on Entrepreneur.com