Black History Month event image, Holding hands

Article by Markita Jack, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Iterable

I’ve always had a fierce passion for celebration.

From the gorgeous sea of twinkling lights softening the streets during Christmas, to hugs and hand-painted cards on Mothers Day, there’s something incredible about gaudy decor, gift-giving and unapologetic festivity. That’s why, for me, the hardest thing about celebrations is when they end. When we return back to reality, and the rigmarole of our day-to-day life.

But they do, inevitably, have to end. Don’t they?

I don’t think so.

This month — October — is Black History Month in the UK. The theme of the month, “Proud to Be”, has galvanized 31 days of celebration, shared experience, and advocacy around the world! Plenty of schools, charities, and businesses have been involved. The #ProudToBe hashtag has taken Twitter by storm. But, as the month draws to a close, I’m reminded of that disappointed feeling I get when a celebration ends. And I don’t like it.

Because this is one celebration that can’t end. It won’t. It’s important we celebrate what Black History Month stands for all year round.

What it stands for

Black History Month is more than a calendar reminder — it’s an opportunity for us — to share our experiences, and our truths. It’s the few weeks out of the year that we have a platform to call others to action, expose injustices, and galvanize change. Business leaders and organisations have a duty to listen to stories shared and, in some cases, take action. But for Black History Month to have the sustained focus and longevity that I envision, businesses and brands need to do more.

Take BBC Sport, as an example. They produced a beautiful film this year celebrating black athletes like Simeon Biles & Marcus Rashford, with a voiceover from poet Deanna Rodger entitled “This story is the future”. Target’s ‘Black Beyond Measure’ campaign puts a spotlight on heritage, legacy and the impact of the Black community. Even Spotify has left their mark on Black History Month with several guest-curated playlist takeovers, including images from Black photographers as cover art. It’s no secret that Black artists have shaped the global music scene. And now, thanks to Spotify, that fact is widely known.

Black History has no boundaries, and brands and businesses should look to this moment as an opportunity to celebrate. Think your business doesn’t fit the “Black History Month Model”? Think again. If L.L. Bean, Chevron, and Refinery 29 can all find a way to celebrate Black History, your business can too. 

But remember, Black History Month is just the start. Racial identity does not disappear after 31 days – it continues throughout the year. I live my identity — as a Black woman — everyday. Businesses are expected to do the same; to champion the Black experience and push for meaningful change.

Meaningful Change

“Change comes from within” is one of those difficult-to-attribute mantras that has stuck with me through the years. But it’s not the phrase that really matters. It’s what it means to me that makes the difference. And it means that, when I don’t like something, I’m empowered to change it. Cliché or not, businesses can find inspiration in the same mantra.

If the purpose of Black History Month is to advocate for change, then the most effective and authentic way to celebrate the Black experience is by enacting change. For businesses, that means putting diversity, equity and inclusivity at the forefront of the conversation inside and outside the organisation. And, if we’re going by the mantra, it’s best to start from within.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is multi-faceted, but not confounding, or difficult to approach. To start their DE&I journeys, organisations should focus on creating opportunities in the company for underrepresented employees. Expanding talent and career pathways. Reward your diverse workforce for the work they do. It’s only fair. And It’s a good start.

Opportunity is all about giving people the space to grow within an organisation. Some businesses should focus on training and development to help nurture talent, keeping in mind that the road to talent development might begin with helping to identify talent in the first place. Professional development is crucial in amplifying the role of people of colour within the workplace. It ensures voices are acknowledged and futures are bright. From my experience, building this developmental infrastructure will result in a workforce that feels happier, and more supported. And as we know, a happier workforce is a more collaborative and innovative one.

An essential part of the opportunity pipeline that is sometimes forgotten is leadership training. An employee, while talented, will stagnate if they are not championed and empowered by managers and mentors at their organisation. It’s the burden that companies with traditional hierarchies have to bear. But it’s only a barrier to progress if there is no process for DE&I. At Iterable, we have Diversity Management Training for everyone that’s manager-level and above. We’re also implementing a 360 degree feedback cycle to level the playing field internally for IC’s and managers alike.

It’s all about making gradual changes that elevate and empower all employees in an organisation.  All steps — no matter how incremental — that an organisation takes to create opportunities is meaningful. When an organization supports a diverse workforce, it will attract one. And that’s the moment when the change we’ve been pushing for will arrive.

Change is coming

Organisations simply can’t take a step back on DE&I when 1st November arrives. Black History Month is over, but a moment of this gravity warrants a year-round celebration! Look around you. We live in a world that, for the most part, celebrates diversity and all that it has to offer. New generations coming into the workplace are more inclusive and passionate about the importance of addressing historic inequities than ever before. Change is coming, and organisations need to be ready for it.

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