The last few years have seen a shift in how organisations recognise Black History Month. More are marking the occasion on social media and hosting talks and events for their employees, but leaders must go much further to achieve lasting change toward more equal and diverse workplaces.
In 2022, racism is still rife in the workplace. Black workers report feeling overlooked for promotions and development opportunities. In a recent survey by the TUC, two in five workers reported experiencing racism at work in the last five years, with nearly a third (31%) saying they felt less confident as a result.
Tackling this issue requires sustained collective action that goes much further than a celebratory post. Below are five steps that HR and business leaders can take this month to have your organisation make a meaningful, long-term difference in the advancement of your inclusion and diversity agenda.
Go beyond ticking the box
From establishing mentorship programmes and support networks to hosting specific awareness and training events, Black History Month can be an excellent time to launch initiatives that connect your teams through shared values of diversity and inclusion. But if this is merely a box-ticking exercise for your organisation, you risk leaving your people disillusioned.
Many organisations hold training on racial awareness and unconscious bias or appoint a Chief Diversity Officer and think that’s the job done. But this is only the beginning. We all must go further and consider the “so what?” element of these initiatives, identifying the actions to be taken, with whom, when, where and how, so that the spark that is lit this month becomes a fire that continually burns.
Establish a culture of openness and empowerment
Speaking out against racism is a powerful act of allyship, but this can be challenging if your workplace has fostered a culture of fear and shame. Sometimes the embarrassment when members of their team make comments or jokes deemed racist, makes leaders cower from the problem. But as a leader, you must be willing to take responsibility for the behaviours of your people and hold them accountable for their actions.
Adopt a zero-tolerance approach to racism and explicitly call out any ‘banter’ or behaviour, even if it’s the most popular and high-performing individuals in your team and company who are participating in this. This will help rebuild trust and signal to your Black and ethnic minority talent that their experience and safety are equally valued and respected.
If you are looking for a way to build a more open culture and encourage speaking out amongst your teams, organisations like the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) have toolkits that can be deployed and used in training on what it means to speak up and how it can be done in a safe and secure way.
Whilst it’s important to consult the relevant employee resource groups and their equivalents on the path to progress, you should also work collaboratively to ensure everyone understands and feels included in your DE&I activities. Identify those who would love to be allies, mentors, sponsors, and supporters from across the entire organisation – vertically and horizontally – as well as reach out to and include those who may not ordinarily or immediately be thought of for contributions or thoughts.
Sharing stories of lived experiences sparks emotions and compassion amongst colleagues, opening doors for new voices and ideas to be heard. Acting on these insights can drive meaningful change and build a sense of belonging and acceptance. It is also important to ensure that your teams have access to the necessary emotional support when sharing, so consider highlighting organisations that can offer additional services if required and demonstrate genuine interest and acknowledgement of their ideas to show they have been truly heard and valued.
Be accountable for your progress
It can be tempting to use this Black History Month as an opportunity to make grand statements about your diversity and inclusion agenda, but it’s meaningless unless your organisation is actively delivering on change. Set realistic goals and be open with your teams about how you plan to achieve them. This can mean establishing tangible objectives and targets; being courageous in reporting, externally and internally, on progress; and being transparent with any mistakes made. Carry out comprehensive reviews of your people processes, starting with how you attract your talent to how you onboard, promote and advance their careers.
Black History Month can also be a time of reflection and assessment of your diversity and inclusion initiatives. Consider what has or has not worked and why? The insights gleaned from this will enable the activities and initiatives planned in future to be meaningful and impactful. Organisational leaders who learn from their experiences and implement that learning are leaders who succeed.
Everyone in your organisation is inherently individual. This is the beauty of what it means to be human. Acknowledging and celebrating that is an act of love. For leaders, this culminates in the understanding that, without the contribution of all your people, the long-term success and viability of your business will become untenable.
Leaders operating from a place of love establish trust, openness, and acceptance within their teams. Enabling a love-based culture and developing love-based leaders requires awareness and self-mastery. You must be open to discussions around what love is within your organisation – what would it look like, sound like, what difference would it make to your bottom line, how would it affect the speed of your decision-making, and so on. Consider the current barriers that exist and how they may be overcome. Then agree on the way forward, which unites all parts of the organisation.
Black History Month should be a celebration of what it means to be human, and as leaders, we must create an environment where our people feel valued and seen for who they are. It can be a powerful and invigorating moment that can enable pivotal change for the benefit of ALL your employees, so use this time to build and move forward as a more inclusive, diverse organisation.
Yetunde Hofmann is a Board level executive leadership coach and mentor, global change, inclusion and diversity adviser, author of Beyond Engagement and founder of SOLARIS – a pioneering new leadership development programme for Black women. Find out more at http://www.solarisleadership.com/.