We have the unique experience of living through the first Black History Month during a global pandemic that is simultaneously situated in a moment of racial unrest. What a time to be alive?!
As a leader in social change work for more than twenty years, it still amazes me how isolated Black folx are in their organizations. Nonprofit. Philanthropy. Corporate. Our stories are consistently the same. As a coach to Black women, I see the themes each session – feeling invisible on their team all the way to being surveilled from the time they walk in the building. And so on and so on…
As you walk into work on February 1st of any year, but especially this year, the company likely has a program planned for this month. I mean, many of them wrote their statements in support of Black lives seven short months ago. You can definitely expect a speech by a good Black person who can tell an awesome boot-straps story. Or one who talks about adversity but expresses extreme gratitude for the white ally who helped them along the way. You won’t likely get a Black person who has political and organizational safety to tell the truth about what it’s really like to work at your organization. So, you are likely bracing yourself for the all-company meetings and webinars.
Do not despair! Amidst all the platitudes, I wanted to share some actionable nuggets to get you through February and the rest of the year. Things that will help you take steps toward change without you having to quit your job. Here are a few that came to mind:
B – Be clear with yourself about how/if you want to lead on equity, inclusion, and belonging in your organization.
L – Look up your organization’s stated values. Read & study them. Know them.
A – Ask HR about promotion, retention, and recruitment data of Black people at your organization.
C – Calendar weekly time to read something related to Black leaders in your field. If nothing has been written, reach out for a conversation with an elder in the field.
K – Keep track of your career growth and promotion timeline at the organization. How does your growth compare to the retention data HR shared? Are there any areas of concern you have avoided addressing?
H – Have clear career goals you want to work toward over the next 1-3 years.
I – Initiate a conversation with your supervisor about those goals and how they can support you in accomplishing them.
S – Seek out leaders you respect to see if they have capacity to be your mentor.
T – Take a look at the bios of the senior leadership and board of your organization. What values do they bring to organization? Are they helping the organization live into the stated values? Or even take the values deeper?
O – Outline an intentional plan on what you will bring and receive from a relationship with a (future) mentor.
R – Review your organization’s diversity goals and matrix for evaluating their progress. If they don’t exist, ask HR about any plans to put some in place.
Y – Yearn for change by refusing to stay the ‘first or only’ for long.
M – Mentor a junior staff-person or a young person who is not yet in the field. Being a mentor is humbling and will let you know what to look for in your mentor.
O – Observe the experience Black people are having in your organization and your industry. Do not turn a blind eye.
N – Never put yourself at (career, political, etc) risk if the cost is not one you can/want to pay. If internal moves put you in jeopardy you can likely find ways to organize from outside the organization via Black professional associations affiliated with your sector.
T – Think of ways to work with other leaders to positively impact the culture at your organization so that Black staff thrive.
H – Honor your time by making sure you check back in with this list throughout the year to see how things are progressing at the individual, departmental, and organizational level.
I hope something on this list inspires you create change where you are this Black History Month.