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So What? Now What?

How to Continue the Work Beyond Black History Month

As the sun is setting on another ending of Black History Month, let’s ask ourselves---So what? Now what? Are we as a nation ready to embrace and incorporate the concept of acknowledging the history of all people everyday and every month of the year? What if we called every year starting January 1st American History Year? And perhaps take each month as an opportunity to celebrate a group of individuals that have contributed to the formation, the making, and the success of this nation? What does the future look like for us? We understand that the past has many wonderful things that have happened in order to create and build this nation. And we also know that there are a lot of things that happened where people have suffered and blood has been shed.

Where do we go from here? Let us honor this month, Carter Woodson, and those that realized the importance of acknowledging the contributions of people of African descent in building our nation. It is exciting to see the number of individuals, communities, organizations, and corporations making a conscious effort to celebrate Black History Month; from magazine articles to entire magazines being devoted to the history of African Americans; to commercials on TV, in sports, and organization leaders making declarations and announcements affirming their commitment to African Americans within their organizations, clients, and customers. All of these are incredibly encouraging and promising; that we as a nation are moving in the direction of a more inclusive society while keeping in mind that we have lots of work to do.

What future do we want to create? What will it take to manifest our desired future? Let us consider continuing conversations on creating an inclusive future, where all individuals in our society are respected and treated as equals. These are the important conversations we want to begin having in our homes, our communities, our places of worship, and our organizations.

The inclusive leader

I invite organizations to take a more active role in taking the initiatives that they have started during Black History Month beyond the month of February. Even as technology makes the world appear smaller, managing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) remain a significant challenge for organizations. To succeed in today’s environment, they must commit to developing an inclusive culture.

Increasingly, companies are working with and managing people who are spread out not only within countries but also across borders and oceans. Their managers are managing people from more diverse geographies, cultures, demographics, and backgrounds than ever before. People from a variety of backgrounds must work together— one-on-one and in teams—across locations that may or may not be formally linked.

Organizational leaders need the skills required to manage this changing, diverse workplace. Leaders have the task of teaching the managerial skills needed in today’s multicultural work environment. Their job is to prepare leaders and managers to value differences among employees, external clients, and customers so that everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

In an article in SAGE Open, Harold Andrew Patrick and Vincent Raj Kumar define diversity as “a set of conscious practices that involve understanding and appreciating interdependence of humanity, cultures, and the natural environment; practicing mutual respect for qualities and experiences that are different from our own; … recognizing that personal, cultural, and institutionalized discrimination creates and sustains privileges for some while creating and sustaining disadvantages for others; and building alliances across differences so that we can work together to eradicate all forms of discrimination.”

Toward an inclusive culture

The role of leaders is to move individuals and the organization toward philosophical and practical change in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The most effective way to help move an organization forward and provide a measurable, long-term impact is centered around what we call the Three A’s: “Analysis—Assessment—Action.” Here’s a look at each element:

Analysis. This stage isn’t just about asking questions. It’s about asking the right questions. The initial goal is to capture the issues, concerns, and barriers currently existing within the organization and use that knowledge to develop a strategic diversity plan to address them. The plan should outline the specific steps necessary to reach the agreed-upon organizational goals.

Assessment. Generally, an organizational climate study, cultural audits, self-assessments, and one-on-one, and group interviews are beneficial in capturing the existing climate. Both quantitative and qualitative measures of the DEI climate should be used.

Useful documents include EEO/AA reports and data on pay equity, promotions, recruiting (what are the costs of finding diverse employees?), and retention (who stays? who is leaving and why?). Other important data include department/team effectiveness and how conflict is managed within the existing culture.

Action. Based on the analysis and assessment, leaders must implement some proven practices:

  • Conduct organization-wide training tailored to each level—that is, leadership team, managers, and employees. When possible, separate the groups so that each feels free to open up and discuss relevant issues.

  • Provide data to help leaders and managers see the correlation between DEI and productivity and employee engagement.

  • Develop a consistent operational definition of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

  • As part of the organization-wide training, include a discussion of perceptions and how our perceptions unconsciously shape how we treat and respond to others.

  • Illustrate the positive impact of cultural differences, an area that is commonly overlooked. Explore the values of cultural orientation.

  • Examine personal values and how they influence behaviors and interactions.

  • Acknowledge differences, define what the differences are, and leverage those differences within the organization.

Achieving a high-performing, inclusive organization is a journey. The leadership team must develop milestones and target dates to assess where they are (actual) with where they want to be (projected). With that information, they can develop SMART goals for reaching the desired destination.

The DEI imperative

Most organizations are made up of diverse cultures internally, their suppliers, clients, and customer base. Current research substantiates acknowledging and respecting differences can create a competitive advantage and increase employee engagement, thereby increasing productivity. DEI is about creating a fair and safe work environment where all employees can contribute and have access to opportunities.

As we look ahead to Black History Month 2022, I challenge you to set a goal---whether it be one, two, or more----for your organization to accomplish in advancing, acknowledging, and promoting the contributions of African Americans as well as other marginalized groups.

(Adapted from an article originally published in the AMA Playbook under the title of Creating an Inclusive Culture in a Global Work Environment by Carrie Spell-Hansson on October 10, 2017)

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