How to Hit “Refresh” on Heritage Months and Cultural Celebrations

In the United States, heritage months highlight,  educate, and most of all, celebrate the complex stories and histories of ethnic or marginalized groups.

Heritage months acknowledge the cultures, historical contributions, and innovations of various groups that have shaped America today.  Building a strong, inclusive workplace culture is important to 63% of employees and 94% of executives, and improving approaches to these special occasions can become a meaningful piece of deep organizational commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Racquel Joseph, Chief Experience Officer of Kindred, led a conversation with experts on workplace and employee engagement. Below are the highlights on how best to approach cultural celebrations and heritage months that align with equity and inclusion initiatives and the unique challenges brought on by today’s remote and hybrid workplace.

Listen in for their complete thoughts, chock full of learnings, cautions, practices, and hopes for the future of employee engagement. 

Here’s a link to the full transcript.

Start From the Inside Out

Organizations take different approaches in celebrating specific holidays but a key characteristic of successful celebrations is consistency with other organizational practices.

Aaron Powers of SYLVAIN emphasized,

“…we’ve got to do the research…we need to understand the plurality of cultures that make up those that are in our walls and those who we want to have within our walls. And we need to make sure that we, as an organization and as a series of organizations, are aligned with those values. That we’re leaning into them, that we’re speaking to them, and that we’re not paying lip service.”

Tony Vargas describes Sprinklr’s culture as one of learning, not just for heritage months, but throughout the year. Seeking out more information is a part of how Sprinklr employees operate so informative programming is a perfect fit. Gena Upshaw (of the Macquarie Group Foundation) noted: “You don’t want to send an external message that does not align with your internal practices.”  

If internal practices don’t yet match the desired scale or depth of cultural celebrations, count it as an opportunity to harness stakeholder motivation to drive deeper DE&I structural work.

Avoid Undue Burden

Equity and inclusion duties often fall onto the same employees who should be celebrated and acknowledged. Without considering it, employers are too often “asking [employees] to solve a problem that not only can they not solve on their own, but also that they’re not being paid extra to solve,” observed Powers. Our experts helped illuminate how best to work with employees without exploiting them with an emphasis on fair compensation and proper resourcing.

“Hire a consultant, hire an external firm, or bring in someone whose role is full time to do this culture work, to do this equity work, to support your people,” Upshaw suggested. If budget is a limitation (and question this closely), creative compensation or meaningful recognition can stand in, but ensure the execution of celebrations is appropriate to the (unpaid) resources available. 

If equipped with an allocated budget, Gena Upshaw reminds us,

“Take a step back and assess, who are our partners, and are we actually investing in the current power dynamic? Are we supporting organizations that are led by underrepresented minorities? Are we supporting organizations that are led by people of color?”

Engage With and Elevate BIPOC Voices

Taking a beat in the planning process to consult is both respectful and inspiring. Tony Vargas said, “Confirm anything that you might not be sure of, particularly if you are an ally who’s leading an initiative to celebrate a cultural or a heritage observance…Always open the door for learning and always show up with no judgment.” And consulting internal employees may not be enough.

For example, almost 47% of Black human resources professionals said they do not feel safe voicing their opinion on racial justice in the workplace. Difficult conversations about tone, appropriate acknowledgment, and compensation for culture work are suppressed in many organizations; hence the need for outside perspectives. 

Start Where You Are

It may be the middle of February, but it isn’t too late to add Black History Month recognition into your engagement plan. As Tony Vargas notes,

“If you have the desire to celebrate, reach out to your immediate circle and expand that a little bit wider within your organization and say, ‘Hey, guys, I know we are at this point in the month, but I want us to do something, who’s onboard? Who wants to join me?’”

The celebration (with a remote setting pivot) can be large or small. Small acknowledgments might look like a reading list or companies might share video resources. On a larger scale, programming might include engaging on social media with influencers, highlighting people, working with community partners, and encouraging collective action. 

Upshaw observed that genuinely acknowledging people, taking a stand on different issues, and celebrating different cultures should not only relate to heritage months but should be year-round to ring true. “Yes, engagement is the keyword. Organizations last year recognized that commitments without action breed hostility. You lose business, you lose employees, and you lose traction in the marketplace in general,” Powers remarked.

Experts Recommend: 

  • elevates all Black organizations in the United States and creates an easy-to-use, comprehensive database to advance racial equity in giving.
  • Decolonize Design founded by Aida Davis is a global community development organization that delivers effective alternatives to the DE&I status quo, utilizing a hybrid pedagogical approach to design thinking and community organizing. 
  • Diversity Inc, founded by Carolynn Johnson, brings education and clarity to the business benefits of diversity.

Thank you to our contributors, Tony Vargas, Global Head of Workplace at Sprinklr; Gena Upshaw, Staff Engagement Lead Macquarie Group Foundation; and, Aaron Powers, Managing Director at SYLVAIN

Author: Trisha Hautéa, Senior Research Analyst at Kindred

Editor: Racquel Joseph, Chief Experience Officer at Kindred

Trisha Hautéa

Published on February 19, 2021