With February in full swing, HR managers may be wondering how to celebrate (and continue honoring) Black History Month remotely. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, many businesses have shifted to fully remote work models, and employees are scattered across the country. While you may not be able to host your standard in-person Black History celebration or volunteer events, there are plenty of ways to celebrate and continuously educate your team on the importance of the annual observance. But first, let’s cover the importance of Black History Month.
What is Black History Month?
Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month is an annual observance that started as a way to pay tribute to and remember important members and events in the history of the African diaspora. Historian Carter G. Woodson created “Negro History Week” in 1926, which served as a precursor to Black History Month, with the goal of recognizing Black excellence and the African American experience. By the 1960s, the concept of “Negro History Week” evolved into Black History Month, as an opportunity for all people to honor the accomplishments and impact of Black Americans in every area of our history. Today, Black History Month has received official recognition from governments in the US and Canada, as well as a number of other countries.
Black History Month is extremely important to celebrate in the workplace -- it not only continues to educate employees on societal injustices and African-American history, but it also encourages diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments for everyone involved. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have become an increasingly larger focus in the workplace, as employers and HR managers are working to create change in spite of historical injustices.
We’ve reached out to a number of businesses near and far to compile a list of powerful ways your business can virtually recognize the importance.
Ways to Virtually Celebrate Black History Month in the Workplace
Invite Guest Speakers & Host Virtual Events
A great way to celebrate BHM is to host virtual events with guest speakers to help facilitate discussions and educate your team members. HR managers can host educational company talks to recognize Black History Month. Whether you are hiring a virtual keynote speaker or pitching an open call for speakers, finding guest speakers of color can help make the experience rewarding and educational for everyone. Create a game plan, choose the right time, promote the event through internal channels, prepare for tech troubles, and make it inclusive. Don’t forget to schedule time for questions and answers throughout!
Janelle Owens, HR Director at Test Prep Insight, offers helpful insights on how her company celebrated BHM this year. “To bring awareness to Black history and the current ongoing struggles for social justice and equality, last week we hosted a luncheon presentation... I led this event by choosing a particularly important event in American Black history and covered it in detail for 30-40 minutes,” Owens adds. She chose to focus on a singular event instead of providing a bird’s eye view or general timeline of Black history in America, in hopes of bringing the struggle to life. She adds that employees responded very positively to the lunch presentation and thanked her for sharing a tale of historical significance.
Christian Velitchkov, Co-Founder of Twiz LLC, says, “For Black History Month this year, we decided to go for webinars and workshops with Black small business owners. This helped expand our creativity to the Black culture and it also gave exposure to the businesses. The workshops were a great way of sharing traditional handcrafted items and passing on the skills to make them among the colleagues.”
Whether you decide to invite a guest speaker, small business owner, or present on the topic yourself, hosting a virtual event removes the health and safety risks of COVID-19 while keeping your employees engaged and educated on the importance of the BHM celebration.
Support Black-Owned Businesses and Nonprofits
Another impactful way to honor Black History Month is to support Black-owned businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations.
Make donations and encourage team members to support local and national Black-led nonprofits that serve the Black community, like the African American Leadership Forum, Association for the Student of African American Life and History, Black Girls Code, Black Lives Matter, Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity, and more.
Support or donate to Black-owned businesses within your community. Highlight Black-owned businesses and products, refer team members, or even partner with small businesses to help bring awareness.
Jason Hughes, CEO of Vegan Liftz, states, “Our team at Vegan Liftz has come up to donate to Black organizations by purchasing and watching movies from Cineplex curated movies for Black History Month. Virtually, we spent our time together to watch.” This is a great way to promote employee engagement, while also supporting an important cause.
Myles Daniel, Founder of Sell My House Fast, shares, “I asked my staff to identify one Black owned business in our area and spend $50 with them. I told them I would reimburse them on the back end. I shared several links with them to restaurants, goods and services, activities, and experiences that would support my community.” This gesture not only aids employee morale, but also helps promote Black-owned businesses.
Host a Black History Month Trivia Event
A powerful way to have fun with your team while also starting a dialogue around the importance of BHM is to host trivia events. Trivia/quizzes are exciting ways to emphasize cultural enrichment in a friendly atmosphere. Whether your event is over lunch, happy hour, or even spans the entire month, keep team members engaged with facts and resources on Black history. You can even offer small prizes to reward participation.
Tyler Read, CEO of PTPioneer, celebrates BHM and beyond with frequent history quizzes. “We work with personal trainers and coaches, so it is crucial to recognize Black athletes’ importance during this month. We are running daily online quizzes with our team in Slack. Winners get small prizes, like home fitness tools, paid fitness app subscriptions, and fitness meals delivered to their homes.”
Lilian Chen, is the COO & Co-Founder of Bar None Trivia, a remote corporate events company. Bar None Trivia hosts virtual trivia activities, and recently launched a Black History Month special. The trivia covers Black excellence across a variety of different fields -- history, musicians, authors, athletes, and more. “We have groups of friends, families, and companies who are celebrating and honoring Black history by playing our special-themed games.”
Promote Black Art, Film and Use Visual Aids
For employees and team members who are visual learners, promoting Black art, film, literature, and using visual aids is a memorable way to celebrate BHM.
Tomas Satas, Founder and CEO at Windy City HomeBuyer says, “I have prepared visual aids about how the celebration of Black History Month started and why people are celebrating it. I’m planning to have it played in our virtual group meetings to be aware of the reason behind the celebration.” This is a great way for team members to learn by seeing and listening, rather than simply discussing.
A book club is also a popular way to virtually celebrate Black history. Sameed Ajax, Digital Content Producer at PureVPN, suggests, “Starting a book club is the easiest way to celebrate Black History Month. We have been running a book club for quite a while now and found it very engaging because every employee can participate and come forward to share his or her views.”
Shaun Price, Head of Customer Acquisition at MitoQ, echos, “My office has put together a Black History month book club, and we’re hoping to keep it going throughout the year, reading books by Black authors… I think a book club is a fun way to get everyone in the office involved in our BHM celebration on their own schedule.”
Show Your Company’s Support and Solidarity
One of the simplest yet most impactful ways to celebrate Black History Month is to show your business’ support on your website, in internal channels, and within emails.
Rolf Bax, Chief Human Resources Officer at Resume.io, explains, “This year we are going to be doing what we can by using the icons, colours, and symbols of Black History Month to show our support and solidarity. The company website and social media will feature the emblematic Pan-African flag, the official flag of Black History Month, and we will pay homage to the men murdered by the police over the last year by listing their names on our social media.”
Virtually recognizing and standing in solidarity with the Black community can be extremely powerful.
Continue the Conversation with Group Meetings & Educational Sessions
In addition to hosting one-time events for Black History Month, it’s extremely important to continue the conversation throughout the year. Black history should be continuously celebrated in the workplace. Consider creating virtual discussion groups on important topics throughout the year, and offer company-run sessions frequently.
Satas shares, “As a way to encourage my team to support and celebrate, I have divided them into virtual groups and asked my Black employees to lead them. I asked them to create a plan on how we can extend our support to Black-owned businesses.” It is important to remember though, that your BIPOC employees are not obligated to lead or educate your other team members.
David Reischer, Attorney & CEO of LegalAdvice.com, says “Our organization has started a topic discussion on the significance of Black History Month on our company Listserv… We already have a vibrant discussion among all of our employees on the significance of Black History Month…”
Review Your Existing Workplace Practices
Though we’ve covered a number of ways to educate and celebrate Black History Month with your team, it’s important to remember HR’s role in continuously supporting the Black community. HR plays a key role in creating an environment where diversity and inclusion are nurtured and encouraged. Here at GoCo, we are constantly revisiting existing policies and creating new policies around anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, dress code, and retaliation.
Review key workplace policies like employee pay review, conditions of service, performance reviews, awards, training, dismissal, and other policies that could be potentially discriminatory in less obvious ways. It is also important to take further action to weaving diversity and inclusion into your organization’s leadership approaches, like:
Adjusting recruitment procedures to provide expanded access to ethnic minorities
Implementing bias interrupters in hiring policies to ensure that BIPOC will not suffer from systemic racism
Revising job listings to remove discouraging language
Reducing hiring from referrals
Reviewing policies on access to promotions that clearly emphasize objective criteria
Offering PTO for protests, jury duty, and voting to support employees
Once you’ve reviewed your policies, using a modern HRIS can make a world of a difference in keeping your employees in the loop. GoCo’s advanced document management system allows you to easily update existing workplace policies, add custom fields, and send out updates virtually. You can also collect e-signatures, acknowledgements, and store collected data to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Our HR Support Center also gives HR managers on-demand resources on policy-writing, inclusivity, and compliance updates to help businesses stay ahead of the curve.
Though the pandemic has limited in-person interactions in work settings, there are still so many ways that HR managers can organize to celebrate Black History Month. Whether you’re planning your first virtual BHM event or starting a book club, continue to educate, engage, and celebrate Black history with your team every day.