February has a lot to love (see what I did there), but more than anything, I see February as a time for reflection.
But here’s the thing – we don’t do enough of it.
So to round out Black History Month, I wanted to spark a conversation that we rarely have in the workplace.
You see, we usually focus on the remembrance of the achievement of Blacks during Black History Month. We celebrate civil rights activists, inventors, Oprah – because they’re the people who helped us achieve what Black History Month really celebrates – progress.
But some Blacks, pro-black allies, and passive allies don’t always take the time to reflect on the past. In fact, most of our reflection begins and ends in February. It ends before we get into why we reflect. And then once March 1 rolls around, we go back to avoiding race conversations.
Look – I get it. Fear is synonymous with the word race because we immediately think about racism when we think about race. We fear what we might stir up if we have conversations about race or we assume we don’t know how to have these conversations without triggering some powerful emotions. We stiffen up when someone Non-Black calls someone Black instead of African-American. We lump underrepresented groups into the acronym POC rather than refer to people by their actual race or ethnicity so we don’t have to say it.
If two people can’t get comfortable using language around social identity in a conversation, then we definitely can’t expect those two to productively call out bias when they see it.
And that, my friends, is why we reflect.
Realistically, a lack of conversations about race is actually the symptom of a bigger problem. Systemic issues like bias in hiring, lack of advancement opportunities, pay inequality, and many more have put up barriers for diverse talent.
Black History Month reminds us all that to make progress, we need to challenge these barriers.
To do that, we need to have real conversations about them. That’s how we’ll get to a place where we’re celebrating Black History Month and celebrating the progress we’ve made in our organizations.
This year at Drift, our team is focused on normalizing these conversations. We encourage you to do the same. Believe me, I know it’s easier said than done. Here are three ways you can begin having real conversations about race:
1. Talk to your team about how to support Black people.
We created a list of ways for employees to change the way they think about supporting Black people and Black history. First up, “Say Black when you mean black.” Other items on the list are:
- Capitalize the B in ‘Black people’
- Talk about Black history and culture with more than just Black people
- Support as a form of justice, not pity
- Recognize the intersectionality of Black people that makes their perspectives different e.g. Black women, Black queer and trans people, Black disabled people, and others
- Go out of your way to learn about Black history and Black leaders
- Advance issues facing the Black community with a donation. Go to Charity Navigator’s curated list of charities that support Black health, education, rights, and community development
- And when you see something that you think others would learn from…share it! We took a lot of inspiration for our own list from Michelle Nicole and the Awaken newsletter
2. Discuss race at work.
We’re doing this by hosting a panel with Smartbear on February 27. Four panelists, including myself, will open up about our own experiences discussing race at work. We’ll lay out our experiences and broach big topics like microaggressions and imposter syndrome. Our goal? We hope that sharing these experiences will help lead to positive outcomes like increased empathy and motivate attendees to break barriers.
3. Acknowledge the state of Black people leading organizations.
Only 1% of VC-backed founders and 2.1% of startup executives are Black. We’re recognizing Black founders who we admire. Charley Moore, Kimberly Bryant, and Tristan Walker, for example, changed the game in their industries against these odds. The world is missing out without more Black leaders. Donate to Black and Brown Founders to support innovation.
With just one week left of Black History Month, take the time today to reflect on why we celebrate it. And then start a discussion about it! As we move into March and the rest of the year, think about how you’ll continue these conversations by sharing facts, personal experiences, and create space for employees to have the chance to ask questions about social identity and receive real answers.