Beyond Black History Month: Driving Equity Throughout The Year
As we remember and honor the legacy and achievements of Black people, Black History Month is a time to reflect on how we can contribute to meaningful and necessary change. While this month can serve as an important catalyst for action, companies and their employees need to take continuous steps toward racial justice and equity throughout the year. At a time when more employees are seeking purpose at work, and more consumers are evaluating companies based on their commitment to social issues, this objective should be core to any business.
In honor of Black History Month, we’ve put together a list of employee benefits and initiatives that can help drive equity in the workplace all year round.
Flexible Work Arrangements
Remote work has given Black employees a reprieve from microaggressions and pressures to conform to White standards in the workplace as well as the emotional stress and feelings of isolation that result. A survey by Slack found that 97% of Black knowledge workers in the U.S. prefer a fully remote or hybrid workplace. Only 3% of Black workers surveyed said they want to return to the office full-time, compared with 21% of white workers. Additionally, Black workers reported a 50% increase in their sense of workplace belonging and a 64% increase in their ability to manage stress once they began working from home. Remote or hybrid work arrangements can have far reaching benefits to Black employees’ overall well-being.
Mental Health Support
According to the American Psychiatric Association, only one in three African Americans who need mental health care receive it. Additionally, when compared with White adults, Black adults are more likely to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress. Barriers to mental health services exist for a number of reasons, including the stigma associated with mental illness, distrust of the healthcare system, lack of providers from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds, and lack of insurance/underinsurance. Crafting policies that provide mental health support for employees and improving health insurance to include mental health services can help eliminate access barriers.
Financial Wellness Benefits
58% of Black & Latino households vs. 37% of all households don’t have enough savings to cover three months of expenses at the federal poverty rate. Additionally, retirement savings held by White households average seven times that of Black households. Even when Black employees have access to retirement plans, they typically contribute a lower percentage of their salary. While pay equity is important, a higher salary does not always guarantee financial wellness for everyone. HR leaders can help narrow the wealth gap by offering comprehensive financial wellness benefits that educate and guide employees to achieve financial stability and their life goals.
Employee Resource Groups
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are voluntary employee-led cohorts made up of employees with common interests, stages of life, or demographics. They serve as a sanctuary for employees with similar backgrounds to connect with one another. The groups offer a space to network, raise awareness around relevant topics, and work on professional development. Many companies successfully leverage their ERGs to drive their talent pipeline and ensure alignment between their business and diversity strategies. HR and business leaders should empower Black employees with a safe space to build community and belonging within the workplace by fostering ERGs and encouraging participation.
Lending your support as an organization in the form of company-wide volunteer days, offering charitable donations, and creating or strengthening partnerships with Black-led charities and causes demonstrates that you are taking action toward racial justice and equity. In order to help drive equality, employers may also want to consider establishing internships, apprenticeships, or recruiting programs with Black-led organizations.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) isn’t a responsibility that falls solely on the hands of HR. Inclusion and belonging are driven by the everyday interactions employees have with one another. Everyone in the company needs to be held responsible for creating a workplace where all employees are treated fairly and feel welcome and respected. In order to drive accountability, data is critical. Establishing and tracking DE&I metrics, such as increased diversity in senior leadership roles or ensuring inclusivity in your talent pipeline, can provide a key indicator of progress and become a catalyst for change.
DE&I is about giving employees equal opportunity in the workplace and removing obstacles for underrepresented groups to grow and advance. As we embark on another celebration of Black History Month, it’s important to carry on the actions and dialogue beyond the confines of February. Make it a priority to continuously listen, learn, act, and speak up throughout the year in order to ensure the workplace is inclusive for your Black workforce.