Black History Month: How to celebrate it in your workplace

The 1st of October marks the start of Black History Month: a yearly national event here in the UK that celebrates and recognises the huge contributions made to British society by people from African and Caribbean backgrounds.

Originally conceived in the United States back in 1926 as Black History Day, it was expanded in 1970 and since 1976, it has been designated as Black History Month. However, it wasn’t first celebrated here in the UK until October 1987, but has been a staple of calendars ever since – and with good reason!

The UK has a hugely diverse and multicultural population, but its’ roots can be traced back to a much darker part of the UK’s history. Much of Britain’s wealth and power obtained during its days of Empire was due to its involvement in the slave trade. As a result, many of the accomplishments and contributions made by Black, African and Caribbean people in shaping the UK into the country it is today were overlooked, ignored or simply forgotten.

black history month hr diverse

Black History Month aims to not only fix the lack of representation in both the UK’s history books and the world of work, but also celebrate the cultures and heritages of those with African and Caribbean backgrounds. Perhaps most importantly however, it’s also an opportunity to challenge both misrepresentation and racism that, despite great strides in recent years to combat, are unfortunately still present in modern society.

Where Businesses Come In

It goes without saying, that it’s up to everyone to not only respect and acknowledge the cultures, heritages and contributions of others; but also challenge negative racial connotations or inequalities. For HR teams, this should be at the heart of any good diversity, equality and inclusion strategy – and taking the opportunity to celebrate Black History Month is a wonderful way for your workforce to not only embrace and discuss cultural differences, but also enhance that all important staff engagement that supports positive company cultures.

So, with all that in mind, how can organisations meaningfully celebrate Black History Month?

1. Engage with your own employees…

A huge part of successful workplace cultures is ensuring that everyone – especially those from minority groups – feel empowered, recognised and listened to by their employers. So, involving your own employees is a great way to understand what would really resonate with them, and also generate more meaningful and valued activities.

Ideally, HR teams should have some form of diversity, equity, and inclusion committee that can help lead this type of workplace engagement and also help your business achieve a more diverse environment. However, if this is something you don’t have in your business, don’t fret: Black History Month is a brilliant time in which to give it some thought and look to get one set up for your organisation.

2. … And have your leadership teams encourage participation

It’s often believed that a positive workplace culture starts from the very top of the leadership chain. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic having fundamentally changed how employers engage with their employees, it could now be argued that it’s perhaps everyone’s responsibility to maintain a positive workplace culture that encourages and values diversity and inclusion – not just the top brass.

With that being said, your senior leadership teams should take an active role in promoting any activities or actions you plan to undertake. Thinking back to our earlier point, having them involved in any diversity, equity, and inclusion committee you setup is also a great way to get buy-in from your entire workforce. This is because when employees see their bosses genuinely value their people and are committed to fighting for workplace inclusivity and creating a safe and enjoyable place to be, it’s likely that staff engagement will increase and people will be happier in their roles, too.

3. Make it company-wide

The thing about inclusivity in the workplace is that it can only be truly effective when everyone from every background is encouraged and given the chance to be involved – so ensure everyone in your business is. On the flipside however, bear in mind it may be the case not everyone may want to be involved in your Black History month activities just because of their ethnic background.

4. Highlight your own employee’s stories and achievements

Your employees may have their own experiences and stories they may wish to share, and BHM is the ideal time in which to do this. This is also a time where organisations can share and celebrate the achievements of their Black employees; be it on their own internal comms or externally via their own social channels – with their permission of course.

5. Create a virtual or real space for your employees to share, listen and ask questions

Questions and discussions about race can be something of a difficult subject, and it can be the case that your workforce – regardless of backgrounds – are unsure how to talk about them without fear of judgement. Sometimes, simply getting over the first hurdle of uncertainty or fear can be the biggest barrier to better understanding.

With the issue of racial prejudice still being an unwelcome factor in modern life, BHM is the perfect time for organisations to tackle these difficult subjects head-on, and provide a friendly, judgement-free space (be it online or in person) where you can invite your colleagues to share experiences, ask questions or simply just socialise together and learn more about each other. Better still, you can easily promote these types of activities via your company’s own HR software or internal comms.

6. Ask an external professional to speak with your organisation

Another great way to create more meaningful engagement during BHM is to perhaps reach out to other professionals in your industry from Black, African or Caribbean backgrounds to talk about their insights and experiences with your own workforce. Failing that, there are a tremendous number of online events promoted by Black History Month.org that are well worth sharing, whilst we’ve also selected a number of TED talks on diversity and inclusion which you and your own colleagues may find insightful, too.

7. Get involved with charities for the Black, African and Caribbean communities

A positive way you can look to promote BHM in your organisation is by raising money for charities that help people of Black and minority ethnic backgrounds – and how you raise that money is where the fun comes in. Perhaps a organise a bake off, a virtual quiz or sponsored bike ride… there’s a world of ideas out there that can help you raise money for worthwhile causes.

8. Don’t stop!

Lastly, Black History Month is of course a fantastic time to champion diversity and shine a spotlight on inclusion both inside and outside the workplace; but it shouldn’t just stop once October finishes.

Organisations and their employees have a duty to promote and encourage these practices throughout the year as part of a continued diversity and inclusion strategy. Not only is this a pillar of positive company cultures, but a commitment to empowering employees from any ethnic background that will make your BHM celebrations seem more sincere and support a more inclusive workplace environment year-on-year.

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