Identity issues are a touchy topic in the office. For the most part at work, we put our personal selves aside and handle assignments. Who we are on a personal level is not supposed to be super important. But of course it truly is.
Who we are influences our understanding of the world ... and work. So it is important at times to recognize the contributions of those the culture has not always championed but oppressed. February is Black History Month. Certainly you understand this is important, but as an employer you may not be sure how to handle it. Here is a suggestion -- and some wise words to keep in mind -- provided by Diversity Best Practices.
Black History Month at Work
Ideally there would be no need for Black History Month because all achievements would be recognized equally and every month would just be one of American history. But we do have it for a reason.
Instead of just letting the month pass, take this opportunity to ask employees and customers what they think is the best way to celebrate the great achievements of African Americans. Send out a survey with a just a few questions and let people express themselves. If you feel it could be awkward, make the survey anonymous, and do address it to everyone.
The point is for you to inquire and find out what moves the people who work for you and with whom you do business, whatever their cultural heritage. Keep in mind too that this is your opportunity to have honest exchanges with people. If you think you can handle it graciously, consider meeting with employees and talking about diversity in the company.
A word to the wise: we have a Black History Month to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to US History. But it is important to note that not all black people in the US are African Americans. There are many people who identify with their Caribbean or other heritage and do not use the term that is now considered politically correct to describe American blacks of African descent.
Does this mean you have to be worried about what you say? Well, no. Just be conscious of how little consciousness many Americans have of a parallel culture that exists in this country. The only way to know what to say is to start a sincere and respectful exchange.
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