Black History Month: Pave the Way for Year-Round DEI Commitment
At The Humphrey Group, we believe that inclusive leadership is a more powerful kind of leadership. Alongside simply being the right thing to do, it has numerous benefits – like driving innovation through diverse perspectives; positively impacting employee engagement; enhancing an organization’s decision-making and problem-solving capabilities; and fostering adaptability – just to name a few.
In recent years, the corporate world has begun to catch up to this. While it’s positive that organizations embrace inclusivity, there is still a lot of work to be done in this realm. February, which marks Black History Month, is an ideal time to celebrate achievements, while also taking a critical lens to how we, as leaders, can do better.
What is Black History Month?
Let’s begin by reviewing the purpose and significance of this month. Each year in February, Black History Month celebrates the rich and varied history, achievements, and contributions of African Americans. It reflects on the struggles and triumphs of the Black community and highlights the pivotal role this community has played in shaping our shared society.
Recognizing and celebrating diversity, particularly during this month, is crucial for fostering an inclusive workplace. Acknowledging the unique experiences, accomplishments, and challenges of Black individuals contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of history and promotes an environment of respect and equality.
Black History Month in the workplace
But, despite the attention that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work receives in February, many BIPOC employees still report feeling varying levels of workplace discomfort. A recent study found that 40% of BIPOC employees reported experiencing workplace discrimination related to their race/ethnicity.
It is critical that DEI efforts are not simply a “one off,” annual practice. Rather, the work of DEI should be part of a long-term commitment to ensure that everyone in an organization feels respected and able to bring their authentic self into the workplace.
At The Humphrey Group, we believe this is ultimately the responsibility of an organization’s leadership. Why? Because the single most impactful way to effect positive change in an organization is through a top-down focus on the role of leadership communication.
DEI work begins with intention
The first step is for leaders to approach this work with intentionality. This is a critical step in ensuring people can truly be heard. In our program, Inclusive Leadership, we talk about the act of “decentering ourselves.”
This is about taking on deep reflection that will allow you to acknowledge and combat subconscious biases, understand your own privilege, and navigate the organizational power dynamics that result from this.
Signal your intention to be an inclusive leader
Your next step as a leader is to explicitly signal your intent, as transparent communication about your commitment (and the organization’s commitment) is significant. Studies have shown that declaring intention publicly can create a form of external accountability that can increase the likelihood of achieving said goal.
As we cover in our programming, this will require a high degree of empathy, humility, and respect. As a leader, you will need to hold yourself accountable for fostering an inclusive workplace by acknowledging existing challenges, being open to having challenging conversations, and committing to meaningful change.
Provide employees with tangible support in your inclusivity efforts
Moving beyond just intent, leaders need to get tactical in providing support. This involves implementing concrete measures, such as targeted training programs, mentorship opportunities, and unbiased recruitment processes.
You should be actively engaging in these initiatives, demonstrating a commitment to driving systemic change and creating an inclusive culture where everyone can thrive.
Inclusive leaders provide individualized support to employees
But leaders must also recognize that individuals within the BIPOC community are not a monolith. This is essential and must underpin all action.
In Inclusive Leadership, we discuss the value of asking questions to engage others. Fundamentally, this is about approaching situations as a leader, and as people manager, from a place of curiosity, rather than assumption.
Take the time to understand and respect the unique needs and preferences of each person. For example, some people may appreciate being called on to share their perspectives, while others may prefer alternative ways of contributing. Tailoring support to the individual fosters a culture of inclusion where everyone feels valued for their showing up as their authentic selves.
Make DEI a commitment beyond Black History Month
Black History Month is an important time for commemoration, but it is also an ideal time to refocus on a long-term commitment. The path to a more inclusive workplace all year begins with leaders intentionally decentering themselves, signaling transparent commitment, providing tangible support, and most importantly, acknowledging and respecting the unique needs of individuals. By embracing these steps, leaders create an environment where all individuals feel seen, valued, and heard.
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