February 17, 2021
Grace O’Hara, Account Manager
February 1st kicks off Black History Month, a time when Americans celebrate the contributions of the black community, as well as to reflect on the ongoing struggle for racial equity. While there is a bevy of articles you can find online about how to celebrate Black History Month, I am reflecting on why it’s so important that we bring our celebrations of Black History Month with us to work.
In 2020, people gathered to bear witness to the legacy of racial inequity that has plagued America since well before 1776 and demanding action for change. Enough was, and is, enough. And it wasn’t just individuals that raised their voices. Companies, both public and private, small and large, came forward and joined their voices to this conversation in an unprecedented way. CEOs and individual employees alike made strong worded public statements, not only pledging their support to the movement for racial equity but pledging action in the form of donations, education, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and community service.
As a white woman, it is critical for me to continue to understand the intersection between where I experience oppression and where I contribute to oppression. The first step for me is to seek to understand the “why” and the “how”, and then to contribute my voice to the conversation where it is appropriate. Being new to the workforce, I have been able to observe the last vestiges of the old paradigm - a world where there is a solid double yellow line between topics that we can talk about at work, and topics that are outside of “polite” work conversation, while also seeing firsthand the evolution of the culture of work. As a young person who has started her own journey in doing the work, I am eager to be part of this culture shift in the world of work and beyond.
As 2020 brought the conversation around racial equity to the foreground of our collective consciousness, 2021 needs to be the year we action that conversation. For all of us, this means continuing to build on the inertia we garnered and cement tangible change. For me, Black History Month is the perfect time to take stock of action items I committed to last year or in years past, and openly discuss how effective I have been in turning action items into reality. Continuing to educate myself, continuing to donate, continuing to hold close the lessons of the past year in my mind as I approach a new year.
Action will look different for everyone—on the individual, community, and organizational levels. The important thing is that action is taking place, and that I continue to be honest with myself about my progress. A simple step? Not only talk about racial equity, but actively looking for ways to promote and celebrate diversity.
At work, there’s no better time than Black History Month to look for other opportunities for organizational culture change. We cannot and will not take actions that simply “check the box”. For me, it’s not just about the need to do the work on the individual level. I want to bring that to the organizational level, being someone who is ready and able call out biases in myself and in my workplace that continue the cycle of racial inequity. I strive be a great listener when I have hard conversations around racial equity in the workplace and to contribute where I can. Listening and participating in these conversations is the first step in beginning to address the systems that further racial inequity.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment data recently published figures that illustrate the devastating reality that amid historic unemployment, black women have been the most affected demographic: the jobless rate for Black women aged 20 and over is one-fourth higher than the national average of all Americans in that same age.
Being the in business of talent solutions, I feel fortunate that I can actively take steps that create change in the workplace, especially at such a critical point in our history. I’m proud that my company has started their journey towards change as well. Our training with ModelExpand, a Diversity and Inclusion consulting firm, forced us all to sit with discomfort; discomfort being faced with our own biases and around where we are not doing enough. It gave us the venue we needed to begin to have difficult conversations in the workplace, and conversations that will pave the way for the future of not just our company, but the companies we serve.
Still, we have a lot of work to do. So let’s get comfortable with the uncomfortable, and take this Black History Month to reflect on ourselves, our communities, and our work. Let’s use this time to listen to black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in our workplace and within our networks and be proactive in engaging in conversations around work and race. I challenge myself, and all of you, to think critically about how our work or our company is contributing to positive change, or isn’t. And if it is not, to speak up and be a part of creating solutions that foster positive change.
Let’s take this time to recommit ourselves to doing the work to create a more equitable global community. Let’s take this time to remember to celebrate all BIPOC not just today, but every day.
Black history is American history. Let’s make future generations proud.