February is Black History Month (BHM)—a time when the U.S. celebrates Black Americans’ contributions and achievements throughout the country’s history. This is an opportunity for HR to collaborate with employees to create thoughtful programming that celebrates Black culture and promotes inclusivity.
Before you start, it’s important to make this process as collaborative as possible. If your company has a Black Employee Resource Group, begin by asking them for their input. If your company doesn’t have one, send out emails or post on your internal comms tools to find people who are passionate about BHM and want to be part of the process. However, be mindful to never assume someone wants to get involved just because of the color of their skin.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a few ideas to help you create meaningful programming for BHM. With a little tweaking and a solid Internet connection (thanks Zoom!), these can all be adjusted to our current WFH reality.
1. Bring in speakers and create a space for employees to listen and share
Many companies celebrate BHM by bringing in speakers to share stories and experiences around race and black identity. Promoting diverse voices creates a space for understanding and empathy. Involve employees and open up the conversation to anyone who wants to participate by sending out a company-wide email asking for speaker and topic suggestions.
This kind of programming can take on many formats, from panel discussions to round tables to workshops. Choose the topic beforehand, and let employees know what to expect so they can feel prepared to share and ask questions.
2. Spotlight employee stories
Companies don’t need to look far to find great voices to highlight. People are a company’s greatest asset, and BHM is the perfect time to celebrate Black employees and their work. Companies can share posts or videos internally on their own websites or newsletters, or externally on social media (again, always ask employees what they’re comfortable sharing and where).
This year, the NBA is using its internal website to share the experiences and perspectives of Black players, coaches, employees, and fans, with its “Built By Black History” project. The site features interviews, team celebrations and racial-justice initiatives, and articles about the league’s Black trailblazers. They also have city-specific guides showcasing local black-owned-businesses and nonprofits that fans can support.
3. Ask employees to take the lead
We’ve said it before but your employees are your greatest resource for creating impactful programming. If your company has a Black ERG, ask them if they’d like to take the lead on this one, while providing organizational support and budget.
Encourage Black employees to create events that celebrate their culture and show off their passions. Squarespace has an entire month of programming, shaped by the company’s Black Employee Resource Group (Black at Squarespace), featuring employee and customer-led events like virtual cooking classes and drink-and-paint night.
Even in our current world of remote work, there are still ways to celebrate together. Ask Black employees to curate a Spotify playlist based around a theme of their choosing, such as “songs I grew up with.” Or host a remote cookout; ask Black employees to share their favorite recipes and then have employees try to recreate the dish at home. Create a dedicated Slack channel so that everyone can post photos and comment.
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4. Volunteer your time and your money
It’s always a good idea for companies to promote volunteering and giving back. It boosts employees’ morale and company culture and gives people that can-do attitude that carries over to their work.
For BHM, team up with a local nonprofit for a day of volunteering. Or spotlight different charities helping the community or related to your industry. If you’re in the tech sector, there are lots of nonprofits whose aim is to diversify tech through education and mentoring, such as Black Girls Code, Project Include, Code2040, and The Hidden Genius Project. If you’re in the e-commerce sector, you can encourage employees and customers to #BuyBlack by highlighting black-owned companies and creators.
Companies can also sponsor team lunches at local black-owned restaurants or happy hours at black-owned bars. To help remote employees join in the celebration, companies can put together BHM gift bags, locally sourced from black-owned businesses.
There are so many creative ways companies can donate their time and their money-from internship programs to employee-led fundraisers to helping kids with their homework. Find ones that resonate with your employees and promote them year-round.
Supporting diversity in the workplace 365 days a year
Black History Month is a great time to celebrate diversity and promote Black voices in the workplace, but it doesn’t have to start and stop in February. Companies should focus throughout the year on creating inclusive workplaces and diverse programming. This can include promoting Employee Resource Groups to foster inclusivity or encouraging other employee-led programming like book clubs or meetups centered around diversity issues. Wherever you start, be sure to keep employees involved and encourage them to take the lead.