February is Black History Month (BHM)—a time when the US celebrates African Americans’ contributions and achievements throughout the country’s history. This is an opportunity for HR to collaborate with their people 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, while you should encourage people to participate, always be mindful and 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 adapted for remote and hybrid work setups.
1. Bring in speakers and create a space for people to listen and share
Many companies celebrate Black History Month by bringing in speakers to share stories and experiences around race and Black identity. Promoting diverse voices creates a space for inclusion, understanding, and empathy. Involve people 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 people 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 team members and their work. Companies can share posts or videos internally on their own websites or newsletters or externally on social media (again, always ask people what they’re comfortable sharing and where).
This year, Comcast NBCUniversal will hold its third Black Employee Network of Engineers (BENgineers) conference, which creates a space for Black technologists to “share experiences, create connections, and explore” the impact of their professional innovations and contributions. They’ve also partnered with JFF, a US nonprofit dedicated to driving transformation in the American workforce and education system, on a report showcasing top Black talent and innovators in tech and digital careers.
3. Ask team members to take the lead
We’ve said it before, but your people 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.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield hosts myriad events celebrating Black culture and history. For ten years, the BCBS’s national Black Employee Network (AABEN) has taken the lead to create educational programming on awareness of Black culture. Events cover Black music, dance, and literature and educational panels cover topics about African-American history, Black identity, “and how corporate America can be more inclusive of cultural difference, to hearing directly from Black leaders who share their career journey and lessons learned.”
Programming can be tailored for remote and hybrid work structures. You can 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, create a cookbook, and then have people recreate their favorite dishes at home. Create a dedicated Slack channel for everyone to 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 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 tons of nonprofits with missions 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 your team members 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 team members join in, companies can send out 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 creating communities like Meta Elevate, dedicated to investing in Black education, professional training, and Black-owned businesses. Find initiatives that resonate with your people 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 on creating inclusive workplaces and diverse programming year-round. 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 people involved and encourage them to take the lead.