February is a special month, not just because it’s the month of love, or the month that changes every 4 years, but because it’s Black History Month. And while this month is often celebrated in school at a young age, it doesn’t have to stop there. It’s just as important to recognize Black History Month in the workplace as well.
But, in order to celebrate the month we have to understand its origin and what it really means. Black History Month, originated in 1926 as “Negro History Week” a week when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History wanted t recognize the teachings of black history and it’s essential place in the physical and intellectual survival of a race. The week chosen to celebrate this was the 2nd week of February to coincide with Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Later on in 1970, black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University proposed dedicating the entire month to Black History. Six years of advocating later and educational institutions around the country were honoring the month with official recognition from President Gerald Ford in 1976.
So how can recognition of this month and Black History be present in the workplace? As managers, supervisors, and HR representatives, it’s up to you to set the standard of practice against discrimination and both conscious and unconscious bias. Additionally, recognizing employees cultures, ethnicity, and backgrounds sets a positive ground for inclusivity and higher levels of employee retention.
Employers should encourage open discussions of race, ethnicities, and cultures in order to create an open form of communication and acceptance among all employees. Many companies remain “colorblind” to their employees and treat each individual as similar as possible, but it’s important to allow employees to express themselves based on their own culture and accept everyone’s’ differences. This can also create a learning environment for employees and for the company as a whole to learn more about different cultures, races, and ethnicity that they may have known or celebrated little about before. In doing so, this should be a good time for the company to reflect as a whole on it’s diversity practices, racial equality, and inclusion.
In a service perspective of celebrating Black History Month, employers can encourage volunteering and donations, as well as organize some of these on their own. It’s always great to give back to the community any time, but being able to give back to Black-led organizations can make great impacts on the community as a whole. This can be done by donating time and/or money to local or national Black-led organizations.
This month is a time to recognize your employees and is crucial to building a positive and inclusive environment in your workplace. It’s so important to reflect on your company values and practices to be sure you are using best practices against discrimination in your workplace.