Meeting in a Box: Black History Month

January 23, 2017 12:00 pm

This Meeting in a Box tool is designed for distribution to all employees. You may use portions of it or all of it. Each section is available as a separate PDF; you can forward the entire document or link to it on DiversityInc Best Practices, or you can print it out for employees who do not have Internet access.

As racial tensions remain on the rise across the country, Black History Month is of even greater importance. And as leaders address these issues in the workplace, it is crucial not only for managers to understand how to handle the current racial climate but for all of your employees to have a better understanding of Black history, how far they have come and what hurdles still remain.

For this reason, we are providing you with additional content in this Meeting in a Box. We are providing a Timeline, highlighting events pertaining to Blacks throughout our nation’s history and all the way up to the present; our Facts and Figures, giving information on Blacks in corporate America, education statistics and financial figures; and our Things NOT to Say segment focused on Blacks in the workplace.

We are also providing discussion questions that can be facilitated by your managers or employee resource groups, as well as proven helpful strategies real leaders have used to address racial tensions.

This information should be distributed to your entire workforce and also should be used by your Black employee resource group and your diversity council all year round.

[CLICK HERE to download a PDF of the full Meeting in a Box, our diversity-management training and educational tool available only to Benchmarking customers and DiversityInc Best Practices subscribers.]

1. Timeline

We recommend you start your employees’ cultural-competence lesson by using this Timeline. The unique history of Blacks in the United States is the clearest indication of evolving human-rights values and represents a moral and economic battle that split this nation. The remarkable progress of African Americans is a testament to the power of democracy, culminating in the nation’s first Black President, Barack Obama. The timeline shown here illustrates significant dates in U.S. Black history and major historic figures.

Discussion Questions for Employees

Black History Month started in 1926. Is it still relevant to have a month-long celebration?

Your guided discussion should focus on the many contributions Blacks have made to U.S. history and the continued debate about whether one month is sufficient. Point to examples of recent groundbreaking events, such as the election of our first Black president. History is made every year; discussions on new achievements, challenges and victories are always relevant.

Why are “firsts” important to note? What other barrier breakers have you witnessed in your lifetime?

This personal conversation will help employees note additional events that they may not have been aware of. The significance of these “firsts” can be explored in further detail after the Facts & Figures section below is discussed.

How does understanding the past help us deal with the present?

Why is it important to study history, particularly painful history? Does understanding what previous generations went through help us see their perspectives today? Can similarities be drawn between civil rights activism during the era of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the goals of today’s Black Lives Matter activists?


2. Facts & Figures

Our Facts & Figures section highlights statistics on Blacks in corporate America, as well as disparities among races in educational attainment and income. Note where the disparities exist and where there may be an upward trend when compared to last year’s data. Where applicable, national data are compared with DiversityInc Top 50 data to show what progress the leading companies are making.

Discussion Questions for Employees

What does it take to move into the senior-executive pipeline at your company? Do you think it’s important for younger managers to have role models who look like them?

Discuss the increase — or lack thereof — of Blacks in various management roles. Analyze the benefits of not only cross-cultural mentoring relationships but also the benefits of Black employees having managers and bosses who look like them.

The Black community represents an increasing share of the consumer marketplace. Whether your company is B-to-B or B-to-C, what efforts are you undertaking to reach Black consumers or clients?

As the population grows more diverse, so does your company’s need to be able to serve people of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds. Discuss how critical it is to have client/customer-facing staff members who mirror the communities. How active are your resource groups in community, marketplace and client outreach?


3. Things NOT to Say to Blacks

We’ve updated our Things NOT to Say series to address current events and legal issues that may very well become topics of conversation in the workplace, addressing everything from hairstyles to affirmative action.

Discussion Questions for Employees

What other condescending or offensive phrases have you heard addressed to Black employees?

Discuss how these phrases and stereotypes impact office morale and productivity.

What role do you think the company should play when offensive comments occur?

Have employees talk about under what circumstances they would report offensive comments and what they believe the company should do.

After today’s lesson, what would you do if you overheard a colleague make such a comment?
Continue the discussion with each employee and develop a plan of action on how to address the offensive language.

4. Racial Discussions in the Office

Corporate leaders have had to learn how to address growing racial tensions and found that open and honest discussions were effective. We have provided some examples of what strategies have proven to be effective.

Discussion Questions for Employees

Are you acknowledging or ignoring racial tensions?

Assess whether your company is addressing these issues or pretending they don’t exist during the workday. If they are going ignored, talk about why transparency would be a better way to address the situations.

How are your employee resource groups involved?

Use the initiatives of resource groups and diversity councils cited in Frank Office Talk About Race — How ERGs Can Help to set up focused discussions and educate your workforce. These groups are conduits to the general employee population.

Are senior executives leading the discussion?

Knowing the demographics of your area and your company — and having your senior leaders at the forefront of addressing gaps and challenges as well as racial tensions — helps employees understand their leadership commitment and appreciate their inclusive workplace.