February 1 signifies a new month and also the start of Black History month. And while I have my own longer thoughts about why this should not be just a month that are connected back to the original intent of what this month was created for, I also recognize that companies across the country are preparing to celebrate…and in sometimes ways that may actually not honor our history and/or what your team members would like to experience at work.
Sharing with you a few of my thoughts on what to consider if you haven’t already:
Ask first if Black employees want to celebrate at work…and be ok if they say no.
It can be hard enough somedays to need to show up at work each day being forced to carry your race on your shoulders but on top of this, being “asked” to lead Black History Month programming, the Juneteenth celebration, anything related to Black history and culture can actually be burdensome. So, while yes, it’s important that you ask, don’t assume that the answer is always yes and be respectful if the response is no. There may be staff who want to celebrate… but just not at work.
Now the critical exception to this if your Black team members say yes but don’t want to be burdened with the planning. This absolutely happens and companies should be prepared to take the lead if their team expects them too. If so, take the lead but still ask for some input. We don’t need any Pepsi fiascos happening because you took the lead and went too far.
For those that do say yes: ask them what they need and get out of the way.
Early on in my career, I remember being forced to be on a planning committee with every other race possible to plan what we should for Black History Month. I, along with the two other Black employees, quit after 2 days and they planned a whole series of programming…without our voices. Needless to say, I still have a few flashbacks and things to say about the whole experience but the point here is that if Black employees say yes, let them plan their programming, say yes to what they need (including budget requests) and get out of their way. The exception to this? See above.
Be mindful that the programming may not be for everyone.