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How to get Black History Month right

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This Black History Month is particularly special because it is a year since the murder of George Floyd and we are in the middle of a period when employees and their families are adjusting to the “return to work”, following the effects of COVID-19 and the lockdowns.

The black community has been one of the worst hit by the effects of the pandemic, whether it’s in their health or in their finances.

This year’s Black History Month presents a significant opportunity for pivotal change and to accelerate the agenda for inclusion. This impacts not only black talent in organisations but indeed all talent. The key is to be intentional. 


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So how do you get it right? Black history lessons are great, as are celebrations of black culture. But, to make an impactful difference, you need to do more. Below are six actions that you can take to ensure your organisation makes a significant advance in embedding your inclusion and diversity agenda in your organisation.

Make it a period of honest reflection

Take a close look in the mirror. Assess the effectiveness of past inclusion and diversity activity, and specifically for the black talent in your organisation. What worked, what didn’t and why was this?

The insights gleaned from this will enable the activities and initiatives planned for the future to be meaningful and impactful. Organisational leaders who learn from their experiences and implement that learning are organisational leaders who succeed.

Consult and genuinely involve your stakeholders

It is good to consult the relevant employee resource groups and their equivalents as to what should be done, when, where and how.  However, additional stakeholders should be consulted for their thoughts, their contributions and their support.

This includes stakeholders who are and who would love to be allies, mentors, sponsors and supporters from across the entire organisation – vertically and horizontally.

Choose to go for the 'different' by asking of yourself 'who can we involve and/or consult that we wouldn’t ordinarily or immediately think of?' Then include them.

Curate focused activity around lived experiences

The power of storytelling is one that is appreciated and popular. The sharing of lived experiences sparks emotion and compassion among colleagues. This is therefore a great activity to curate, with the support of key individuals from your black talent population across the organisation.

Doing this should, however, be accompanied by the provision of support for the individuals who share their stories. In the interest of ensuring that they result in making a difference, this should be accompanied an action planning session. Each individual storyteller should be asked 'what needs to be present and what actions need to be taken in order to ensure there is significant progress and by whom?'

Seize the day for a clarion call

Launch a recruitment drive for allies, mentors and sponsors in your organisation. Put in place awareness, training and support networks for them and match them with the black talent in your organisation.

Celebrate and acknowledge the pairings and ensure that you have adequate check in and feedback loops that enable safety and security psychologically. This is because, for both parties, this may be a new experience and it’s important that the very first experience is positive.

Light a spark

Bring in a powerful, pragmatic and impactful motivational speaker – an individual with charisma to come along to share his/her lived experience and hold the mirror up.

However, if when this happens everyone is left feeling great and then nothing worthy happens, you run the risk of leaving your people disillusioned. If you have a motivational speaker that comes along and lights the spark and energy around a renewed business case for black inclusion, what you must do in addition, is plan the 'so what?' element, the actions to be taken so that the spark that is lit becomes a fire that continually burns.

Initiate dialogue on love-based leadership

If there ever was a time to initiate dialogue on love-based leadership and culture, Black History Month is that time. When all of your people, regardless of their race and background, feel, genuinely, like they belong and are included, you create the backdrop for the possibility of ground breaking innovation.

Love is the unconditional acceptance of who you are and who another is. It is the willingness and the ability to see and embrace the human being beneath the skin. It is also a great way to unite all parts of the organisation.

Engage in dialogue on how love can be defined in your business, the difference it would make if present, the barriers that exist and how those barriers may be overcome. Then agree the way forward action.

This year’s Black History Month comes at a most remarkable time in life and history. It is also a most wonderful opportunity to make the activities that are initiated count not only for your black population but also for all of your population.

 

Yetunde Hofmann is a board-level executive leadership coach and mentor, global change, inclusion and diversity expert,and founder of Solaris, a pioneering new leadership development programme for black women.

 

October is Black History Month in the UK and every Friday throughout HR magazine will be posting a series of expert perspectives on how HR can provide better support for Black employees in the workplace.

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