On only the second Juneteenth to be recognized as a federal holiday, it’s clear that employers’ understanding of how to mark this day is, much like racial equity in corporate America, a work in progress.
Juneteenth, with its complicated emotional legacy for Black Americans as a commemoration of the end of slavery in the US, is both a day to honor the past and an day to look forward—a recognition of the darkest parts of American history, and an opportunity to reflect on how the country can build toward a more just future. For companies in particular, it’s a chance to reckon with the work that still needs to be done to create workplaces in which Black employees can thrive.
While some organizations have already moved to commercialize the day with missteps like Juneteenth-themed ice cream, others are treating the holiday more thoughtfully, with paid time off, company-wide days of service, and celebrations of Black music and culture. But without sustained care behind them, single-day commemorations are only marginally more impactful than themed ice cream. Equity, as many have pointed out, is a verb, an intentional action that manifests—or doesn’t—in every moment of how we work. It’s in the way we communicate with one another, the things we value in our systems and processes, the way we think about who gets room to speak.
Last year, ahead of its Workplace Summit, Charter circulated a letter to event speakers and moderators with best practices for speaking with an eye toward inclusivity. They’re practices that hold true for any leader and any worker, in any context, who wants to be more intentional about challenging the thought patterns and behavior norms that uphold white supremacy in the workplace.
Below is a lightly edited excerpt of that letter:
When we launched Charter in June, we set out to help leaders and organizations escape the gravitational pull of the status quo… We wish that it was as simple as bringing together dynamic organizational leaders and adopting new mindsets and skills, but the truth is that we are all pushing against a system that holds back traditionally marginalized people from leadership positions, and against the unconscious biases that these systems have created within each of us. That requires all of us to not just show up, but to do the extra work to contribute to advancing toward more equitable and inclusive workplaces.
We’ve compiled some best practices that we aim to follow, and are sharing them here in hopes that you might do so as well.
- Avoid a deficit narrative. That’s framing inequities in ways that can actually work to reinforce them. For example, instead of “Black workers struggle to climb the corporate ladder” (a recent headline in a mainstream news organization’s newsletter), you can say something like, “Companies continue to disproportionately promote white employees despite commitment to increase leadership diversity.” The words we choose matter.
- Avoid white centering. Be conscious of not letting white norms and feelings overtake those of people of color, as well as elevating BIPOC voices and BIPOC protagonists.
- Acknowledge white supremacy culture in the workplace. (Charter’s team our team finds this document helpful). Even better, actively speak up against the characteristics of white supremacy. (White supremacy culture can show up in the attitudes and behaviors of all people.)
- Avoid perpetuating the myth of meritocracy. Instead of upholding the idea that the leaders of today have gotten there because of their capabilities and merits alone, acknowledge that while talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not.
- Shift to empowering listening rather than defaulting to sharing our own experience prematurely, thus potentially bypassing the experience of the person who’s sharing. Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker and Dr. Lauren Wadsworth, authors of Did That Just Happen?!, suggest that this can include committing to active listening, practicing cultural humility, and embracing critical self-reflection.
We hope you’ll join us as accomplices in this work.