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Monday, July 15, 2024

Why Companies Grappling With ‘Diversity Fatigue’ Need to Change Their Approach to Juneteenth

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As a DEI consultant running my own business, I know this work isn’t easy. I have to constantly weigh the risks and rewards of incorporating DEI into all levels of my organization — and how to do it well. However, the risks businesses are facing around DEI implementation are worth noting. Ever since the Supreme Court essentially ended race-based affirmative action in higher education in 2023, more companies and organizations have walked away from DEI, citing that it’s too “risky.”

The potential legal scrutiny that comes with DEI programming may be too much to bear. Companies in nearly all industries have had to alter their diversity policies to cover their legal bases. But at what cost? I would argue at the cost of fostering belonging, collaboration and the ability to create a workplace that celebrates diversity rather than hides from it.

We’re quickly approaching one of the most important Black holidays in the U.S., the day the enslaved people in Texas learned that slavery had been abolished and that they were finally free on June 19, 1865. I’m talking about Juneteenth.

Many companies have turned their backs on cultural holidays like Juneteenth out of fear of repercussions for celebrating or prioritizing diversity. Here’s how they can reapproach them with the risks and rewards in mind.

Related: DEI Initiatives Are Dissolving — Here’s How Managers Can Step Up and Reverse This Unsettling Trend

How to reapproach Juneteenth with risk in mind

Discovering one was finally free and no longer enslaved and then daring to take action on that discovery was both a revolutionary and scary thought back in 1865. Enslaved people at the time had only dreamed of the taste of freedom after hearing how fellow enslaved people in the South had migrated North to explore freedom in another part of the country.

Living as a full citizen in the United States at a time when dehumanization was all too common was a reward finally in reach. It was risky to exercise your freedom a s a newly freed person. Clearly, the risks were worth the rewards. Envisioning and working toward the rewards that come from celebrating diversity and engaging in DEI efforts despite the risks is what I would encourage companies to explore as well.

Make Juneteenth a cultural holiday that everyone can relate to

Companies can tie the holiday of Juneteenth to other scenarios and historic events when freedom was granted where it wasn’t before. Most American workers can relate to the ideal of freedom. Make the case that Juneteenth isn’t just a Black holiday but a story of freedom, liberation and the beginning of a certain group’s ability to exercise free will. Tying Juneteenth to larger themes not only covers the “risk” bucket — where you’re not only celebrating one group of people and their history — but it also invites others to emotionally connect with the universal value of individual freedom. This reframing invites inclusion and compassion into a holiday that would otherwise be seen as a “risk” to celebrate.

Related: The 6 Do’s and Don’ts for Engaging in Juneteenth Conversations

Make Juneteenth a learning opportunity for the company

Not everyone knows a ton about Juneteenth. They may have first heard of it in 2021 when President Biden declared Juneteenth a national holiday. Those who weren’t aware of the history may have seen Juneteenth as an additional day off, like the 4th of July. But it’s more than that. Make Juneteenth a learning opportunity for all. Without necessarily treating Black workers differently, HR, executives, managers and leaders can share the historical facts about Juneteenth so all workers can understand why it’s a national holiday worth celebrating. There is no risk in sharing historical facts, so employees are more informed about the holiday’s historical significance. The reward is a more informed and understanding workforce that can be grateful for how freedom for some means freedom for all and how that’s part of the fabric of American life — both inside and outside the workplace.

Related: How Inclusive Leaders Can Understand and Harness the Power in Juneteenth

Build a culture of appreciation and empowerment on Juneteenth

When people know better, they can do better. The hostile environment that has recently subverted DEI does nothing to build compassion, inclusion, or collaboration among workers and within the company. So, why not introduce Juneteenth education as a tool for appreciation? When people understand the challenges faced by those seeking freedom, they can look at their fellow Black coworkers not as victims of a cruel system of slavery but as descendants of those who rose up and fought for their freedom with resilience. Avoiding Juneteenth and all mention of it robs employees, Black or not, from garnering an appreciation for the moment we’re living in and from feeling grateful for the diverse workplace they enjoy. Before the 1950s, an integrated workforce was a pipe dream. Now, celebrating Juneteenth can be a day that highlights the power of resilience, integration, and freedom for all.

Final thoughts

There are risks and rewards with every aspect of business. However, the risk of neglecting to celebrate diversity, leaving differences and commonalities between workers as a secret not worth mentioning, or ignoring the historical significance of certain events in the states isn’t worth it. The reward of encouraging cultural awareness through discussing historical events that have cultural implications can create a more appreciative, collaborative, and empowering workplace — not diminish or harm it. Recommitting to DEI can be rewarding. The key is to find the middle ground between risk and reward and recommit to celebrating diversity.



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