By Janice Gassam
Juneteenth 2020 is swiftly approaching, and many organizations have decided to recognize the day as a corporate holiday. Juneteenth is a nationally recognized day that is remembered as the end of American slavery. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which was supposed to mark the end of slavery, however in some states there was little enforcement of the executive order. On June 19th, 1965 Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and broke the news that the war was over, and slaves were officially free. Although institutional racism still permeates several systems and structural inequities persist, Juneteenth marks an important moment in America’s history. In 2020, racial tensions in the United States were exacerbated by the untimely deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery among so many others. The headlines have been marred by stories of police brutality and the disparate treatment faced by Black people. With the heightened spotlight on racial equity and justice, companies are taking action in different ways. One trend that has been happening is recognizing Juneteenth as a company holiday. Twitter and Square recently announced that they’re making Juneteenth a corporate holiday, as did Target, Nike and the NFL. Recognizing Juneteenth as a corporate holiday is a great first step in demonstrating that Black employees do in fact matter. It’s an impactful way to reflect on America’s history (albeit dark) and use the day and every day to educate employees about Black history. In addition to recognizing Juneteenth, here are some additional ways for your company to show their commitment and support for Black employees.
1. Don’t shy away from racial dialogue. Race is the hot pink elephant that people try to ignore and claim that they don’t see because they are “colorblind.” An important question to consider is how you expect to fix a problem that you “don’t see?” In order to make your workplace a more inclusive and equitable place for Black employees, consistent conversations around race should be baked into the organizational fabric. These can be facilitated by racial equity educators. Anonymous surveys can be a good way to elicit feedback from employees. Panel discussions and book clubs can be additional ways to catalyze conversations about race.
2. Numbers don’t lie. Jay-Z once said in a song that “men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.” Proclaiming that Black Lives Matter in one breath while knowingly allowing Black employees to be disenfranchised, underpaid and undervalued is performative allyship. Many companies hire Black employees but do very little, if anything at all, to ensure that these same employees feel valued and are given equal opportunities to advance within the organization. You must first seek to understand the numbers. Are Black employees being hired and promoted at comparable rates as their white counterparts? Also assess pay. It is a common and unfortunate practice for employers to underpay Black employees, and particularly Black women. Ensure that Black employees are being hired, promoted and paid at the same rates as everyone else in your company.
Originally posted on Forbes