Black History Month is over, what’s next for DE&I?

Black History Month ended on February 28. But the conversation and the steps to continue DE&I initiatives shouldn’t.

February is over and attention on Black History Month has disappeared. However, the need for ongoing efforts to promote DE&I initiatives remains critical. DE&I initiatives require sustained commitment and action beyond designated heritage months.

While heritage months provide an important platform for learning about the history and culture of different communities, they must not be seen as a substitute for ongoing efforts to create meaningful change. To make a real difference, we must continue to work towards building a more equitable society every day of the year.

Ahead of their session at Ragan’s upcoming Employee Communications and Culture Conference, we spoke with Crystal Andrews Banks of Kraft Heinz and Bill Hicks of the Anti-Defamation League Midwest to learn how to take concrete steps forward and support communicators who are championing DE&I year-round.

Be intentional.  

Intentionally creating spaces for Black people offers multiple benefits, such as diverse perspectives, increased creativity and innovation, and a sense of belonging. Multiple ways exist to intentionally create spaces for Black people.

“I’m someone who’s about helping to create safe places for staff and for me that’s emotional safe, but also [lets me] feel seen and heard,” Hicks, the associate education director for the ADL said. “How do we intentionally think about that in all that we do?”

Hicks, who works with K-12 schools on general anti-bias education, said being intentional and thoughtful is key when it comes to planning content, language use, initiatives and everything in between.

Sometimes it can feel like a company is being performative if there’s no action that follows statements of support, or values aren’t operationalized after the heritage month has passed, he explained.

“If organizations or companies do a Black History Month event or celebration or panel or webinar, that’s great, but I hope there’s a comma after that event, versus a period or exclamation mark, so there are continued conversations,” Hicks said.

The education director said highlighting employees of color and learning from other organizations are intentional ways to continue DE&I efforts beyond February.

“I think there are opportunities throughout the year to look at how can we intentionally do inclusive acts,” Hick said. “There’s diversity, but it’s diverse based on [the] people that are in the space,  how we really focus on equity, inclusion and belonging, and how it is operationalized.”

Help DE&I leaders shoulder the responsibility.

DE&I roles have grown in popularity over the years, but job postings increased dramatically between September 2019 and September 2020 from 140 jobs per million to 219, according to Indeed.

While organizations and companies are aiming to take the right steps for a culture shift, it’s a responsibility that should be shouldered by everyone and not just those who hold a DE&I title.

“How do we change the culture in which people don’t just say, ‘That’s their job?’” Hicks asked. “How do we all envision that we can play a role?”

Hicks said over the last couple of years at the Anti-Defamation League, a DE&I component has been included in employees’ performance reviews.

“Finding ways to incorporate [DEI] so that it’s part of a bigger picture versus a one-time event or activity,” Hicks said, “can help move the DE&I needle further.”

Another leader who has experience with DE&I is Crystal Andrews Banks, the global head of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at Kraft Heinz, who works with her team to bring one of the organization’s core values, “We Demand Diversity,” to life.

Communicators who hold DE&I titles are stewards of change who rely on leadership, as well as others within the organization, to also help carry the torch, Andrews Banks said.

The DEI leader said to surround yourself with people who will help amplify your impact.

“I can’t be all things to all 40,000 employees,” she said. “I need champions and allies within the organization to also own our DEI&B strategy and have skin in the game to help us evolve into the organization that we’re trying to be in this space.”

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Educate yourself regularly.

For true change to take place within an organization, everyone has to do their own work.

Allyship and inclusion involve everyone working on themselves for the greater good, whether that’s active personal learning or professional, Hicks said.

“I am not your Google,” Hicks said. “You have access to some of the same resources that I have.”

Educating yourself helps to promote understanding, empathy, respect, and inclusion. It also helps to reduce stereotypes and biases, which are often barriers to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive society.

“Instead of leaning on somebody else to tell me all about their identity and culture and experience, [I] do some of my own work and then have more of a conversation,” Hicks said.

The importance of educating yourself outside of the month of February is a step that leads to DE&I becoming innately embedded within the organization and not siloed to a role or month, the Kraft Heinz leader said.

Everyone can probably recount an experience where they’ve felt left out at some point in their lives. “You remember what that feels like,” Andrews Banks said. “DEI&B is all about making sure you don’t feel like that in your day-to-day experience at work.”

Understand progress takes time.

Real change requires ongoing learning, growth and adaptation, which takes time to implement and embed effectively. Therefore, it’s important to understand that incorporating DE&I initiatives is a continuous journey that requires patience, persistence and a willingness to learn and evolve.

“People think that in order for change to happen it has to be this big lofty action and sometimes it’s those small everyday actions that make a difference,” Andrews Banks said.

It’s about simplicity, but also meeting people wherever they might be in their journey, she said.

By taking a personalized approach to communication, an organization can better ensure that its DE&I efforts are understood and embraced by all members of its community, Andrew Banks explained.

One of the highlights from the past year with Kraft Heinz was a 24-hour day of learning centered around diversity, inclusion and belonging. The day focused on three parts: storytelling, allyship and action. The exercise encouraged people to examine their roles and responsibilities within the company.

DE&I roles aren’t easy, and it’s important to take care of yourself in these roles as they can be emotionally and mentally taxing. “No one has figured this out yet,” Andrews Banks said.

“If you have a friend at a company with an initiative that might work at yours, talk [to them] about it. You don’t have to recreate the wheel, you can leverage things that have been done.”

It’s helpful to focus on progress, not perfection when examining the success of DE&I initiatives.

“This work doesn’t have a destination,” Hicks said. “It’s a journey.”

Join Andrews Banks and Hicks at Ragan’s Employee Communications and Culture Conference, which goes down April 25-27. They both will speak alongside communications leaders from GoDaddy, US Bank, Motorola, Shutterfly and more.

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