Over the past few years, more and more companies have been recognizing Juneteenth as a chance to show that their culture values diversity, equity and inclusion. And this Monday, many U.S. employees have Juneteenth off in observance of the holiday. But, some individuals and organizations may not fully grasp why this date is meaningful to American history, and personally important to their Black colleagues.
June 19, 1865 is the date that Union Army General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and liberated the last enslaved people left in the U.S. Though the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery two-and-a-half years prior, enslaved people in Texas were still illegally in bondage.
Thus, Juneteenth (short for “June nineteenth”) commemorates African American freedom. Over the last decade, increasing numbers of organizations have recognized the date. In 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation establishing the day as Juneteenth National Independence Day – a formal federal holiday. Since the bill’s signing, even more companies close or give their employees the day off.
In addition to acknowledging the holiday, integrating Juneteenth’s lessons into your organizational culture and inclusion practice is key. Here are my and Stories Incorporated’s recommended ways companies can honor Juneteenth and support diversity, equity and inclusion.
Honor Black History as all Americans’ history
Holidays such as Juneteenth and Black History Month are a chance for your culture to acknowledge the lives, struggles, triumphs, and accomplishments of Black Americans. Their individual and collective experiences are a vital part of our entire nation’s history. Significantly, celebrating dates like Juneteenth shows Black team members and candidates that DEI and antiracism is a priority for your company.
Provide space for Juneteenth and celebrating Black History all year long
Celebrating dates that honor the heritage of underrepresented groups in your company is a best practice for your internal and external diversity and inclusion content. For leading life sciences company Labcorp, Stories Incorporated helped them uncover and capture employee stories for a series of videos, each focused on a specific employee resource group (ERG). The videos also celebrate cultural moments and holidays throughout the year, such as Black History Month.
However, Labcorp shares these employees’ stories all year long. The content library of these team members’ stories serve as essential, anytime communications that show Labcorp’s commitment towards inclusivity.
Make an impact beyond your company
Involving employees in volunteering efforts that assist antiracist organizations is a meaningful way to celebrate Juneteenth, as is partnering with an organization that champions diversity and equity in society at large. A great example are the stories we helped the LexisNexis Fellowship initiative capture from its African Ancestry Network and LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation participants.
This fellowship is part of LexisNexis’s overall commitment to diversity in the company, and the Fellows — students at HBCU law schools — are focused on work to eliminate systemic racism in legal systems and build a culture of inclusion. These stories show that LexisNexis is impacting diversity and inclusion beyond the confines of the workplace.
Welcome hard conversations
It might feel safer for culture communications to stick to the positive and non-controversial aspects of DEI. However, Juneteenth, with its roots in the injustice of slavery, is a hard topic. It recognizes our nation’s greatest shame, even as it celebrates people’s freedom. And when a company is willing to take on tough issues like racism in its communications, it communicates to its employees and candidates a sincere commitment to real, impactful inclusion.
For instance, a leading pharmaceutical company engaged Stories Inc. to uncover real employee stories about the company’s DEI journey. And, they didn’t shy away from tough topics like racism. We captured a story from their U.S. Head of Diversity and Inclusion on his feelings on the murder of George Floyd at work. Their amplification of his vulnerable story showed proof of how the company encourages team members to bring their whole selves to work, and that they’ll support their people in the hardest moments of the DEI journey.
You need stories
Your team members’ stories are the answer to showing diversity in your workplace, the belonging felt by employees, and your efforts to improve. Those employee stories, shared on important cultural dates and in your communications all year long, show your real commitment to your company’s never-ending DEI journey.
We have more tips
Our guide, Top 10 Tips for Communicating a Diverse and Inclusive Culture, will show you how to create your best diversity and inclusion content. You’ll learn how to capture and amplify your team members’ perspectives and stories. With the tips and examples inside, you’ll answer the DEI questions your audiences need answered.