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Three Ways to Support Black Employees Year-Round, Not Just for Black History Month

Three Ways to Support Black Employees Year-Round, Not Just for Black History Month
Posted on Tuesday, February 7, 2023 by Jamon Harrell

Celebrating Black History Month is a step in the right direction, but it shouldn’t be the only time employers support their Black employees’ pursuit of professional equality, physical health, mental wellbeing, and financial freedom.  

February is finally here, so it’s time to celebrate Black History Month!  

While the President didn’t officially designate Black History Month until 1976, this celebration of African American achievements started in 1915, thanks to historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson. 

Before Dr. Carter Woodson founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), there was little to no accurate written history about the lives and experiences of Black Americans.  

Luckily, through his work with other members of the ASALH, Black history was first celebrated on the second week of February in 1926, which aligned with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Fredrick Douglass. 

As we fast forward to this year’s Black History Month theme, “Black Resistance,” it’s important to keep in mind that supporting and recognizing Black employees shouldn’t just happen during Black History month or on Juneteenth, for that matter. While these are great opportunities to honor Black employees, the work isn’t done until we support Black employees as a whole, fostering mental health, financial wellbeing, and educational opportunities year-round. 

How can employers get started on supporting Black employees daily? The answer might be slightly different than what you’d think. 

An inside look into the life of a Black employee 

The last few years have been hard on everyone, but none have impacted as much as the Black community. Even before the mass layoffs started happening throughout the technology industry, the unemployment rate for Black women rose sharply to nearly 6% in April 2022.  

Combined with the record-breaking inflation rates on necessary goods and services, marginalized communities such as Black Americans have been hit unequally hard by the effects of the pandemic. 

In addition to increasing unemployment rates within the Black community, another area that Black employees have historically struggled with is mental wellness. Only 43% of Black employees said their company showed empathy in response to recent systemic racial violence, and 20% said that their employer did nothing in response to these events. Despite a third of these employees saying that these events were so distracting they could not do their jobs. 

To make matters worse, Black employees often earn less than their white co-workers, which contributes to a lack of trust in employers as they do not feel valued, encouraged, or treated as esteemed professionals as other co-workers. 

With 13% of Black employees working in the frontline, many of these workers have the lowest intention to leave their current employer, yet many are leaving due to a lack of career development and advancement potential. Of these workers, nearly 84% of Black employees have indicated the desire to be promoted, yet only 62% perceived an opportunity to advance. 

From these statistics, it’s clear employers have some work to do in creating policies and practices that hold up to the DEI promises they made to their Black employees.  

The good news is that it is never too late to start making a positive impact for 2023. 

How employers can support Black employees year-round 

While the road to inclusion has been paved with good intentions, it’s not enough just for companies to simply announce a formalized DEI policy for their employees.  

Currently, around 68% of North American employers have a formal program, but there’s still room for improvement to bring these numbers up and incorporate other impactful initiatives into the mix. 

Instead of focusing on only DEI initiatives, here are a few more to add to your arsenal. 

1. Avoid falling for hiring more Black employees as a solution. And work on increasing inclusion throughout your culture to delight and retain talent of color.  

It’s no secret that many industries lack diversity within their workforce. Although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with increasing the number of Black employees you’re hiring, it’s important to ensure it’s not only for the checkbox.  

Black employees deserve equal opportunities to grow and develop at work. For many marginalized people, they aren’t historically represented in C-suite roles, even at successful Fortune 500 companies. 

If this is true for your organization, start focusing on developing and promoting Black employees in a variety of responsibilities throughout your organization. And invest in your DEI efforts to talk and listen to Black employees, so they have a voice in your DEI roadmap. 

2. Close the wealth gap by paying Black employees fairly and offering financial guidance and services to promote financial stability. 

Did you know that 47% of Black workers in the U.S. earn less than $15 per hour?  

To put this into perspective, this is less than the living wage in most states today. It’s no wonder that Black employees are suffering more than their white co-workers during the turmoil of the last few years. 

Creating an inclusive culture for everyone starts with bridging these significant pay gaps between employees. If employers want to retain Black employees, they need to give them not only equal opportunities to advance but equal opportunities to make a living in the role they are currently in.  

3. Allow for additional time and space for Black professionals, and remind employees about the mental health programs available. 

All the recent systemic racial injustices have taken a toll on Black employees. Employers need to recognize that to create a work environment that prioritizes mental health and wellbeing for Black employees, there needs to be resources in place to support healing. 

An excellent place to start is by looking at your current PTO policy. Are employees able to get the time off needed to support mental health with the policy in place? If not, this is something that you should be looking into to make sure that your marginalized populations can get the rest they need to deal with such events. 

If you’re looking to get started, these ideas should get you pointed in the right direction. However, it’s important to mention that proper support for Black employees can take many forms and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.  

It’s time to commit to a better workplace environment for our Black friends and colleagues. Will your organization rise to the challenge? 

Interested in learning more ways to address Black mental health? Check out these three ways for employers to take action.