Juneteenth beyond a day off: how to celebrate all year round

For better or for worse, best practices for celebrate June 19 at work are in the foreground.

In 2021, many employers tried to deliver on previous promises of anti-racism and cultural inclusion by making this holiday celebrating the abolition of slavery a paid day off – see Workday, Twitter, Uber and Lyft – even before President Joe Biden makes June 16 a federal holiday June 18th. African Americans have celebrated the holiday since June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers belatedly arrived in Galveston, Texas to let black Texas residents know they were no longer enslaved.

As non-Black Americans begin to embrace Juneteenth, companies are looking for ways to celebrate that don’t cause harm or outrage (read: a pint of Red Velvet ice cream and a set of paltry striped towels).

Repressing cultural appropriation and investing in company-wide education around racial inequality can create a strong foundation. But DEI officials can keep the spirit of Juneteenth alive, year-round, by reviewing and auditing current talent acquisition practices for racial equity, experts told HR Dive.

“Juneteenth should be about educating and supporting, and making sure you’re part of the progress, because there’s still a lot of work to do,” Kimberly Lee Minor, chief commercial officer and president of Bandier, told HR Dive in an interview. “And making sure people of color — black people, in particular — are represented in all ranks, regardless of what industry we’re in.”

Representation matters. Tact too.

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For example, like many fashion retail companies, Minor said, Bandier was severely lacking in diversity when she joined 18 months prior. The leadership called on Minor to speak with the leaders of June 19 and bridging cultural gaps. Because of the anti-racism conversations that were sparked two years ago, a more unsung black story has come to light. Those who knew, Minor said, didn’t learn that knowledge in K-12 social studies classes. This history lesson came from black parents or was discovered in college. Building on the summer 2020 work, Minor’s goals aren’t just about making Bandier more multicultural. She also wants her workplace to support her growing and diverse community.

Kimberly Lee Minor, President and Chief Commercial Officer of Bandier

In addition to giving employees a day off, Minor said the Athletics famous brand mainly in how HR build their team. She juxtaposes this approach with Walmart’s recent June 19 controversy.

“Retailers can be the worst. I’ve been in this industry for so long. They may just be the worst because they see a marketing or merchandising opportunity at every turn,” Minor said of the ice cream debacle.

“It’s not like all A black person on June 19 has a barbecue – like I’ve never been to a June 19 barbecue. I attended cultural celebrations,” she said. “What would make you think you should make money from these people celebrating their legal freedom?”

Equity is a year-round commitment

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Malia Lazulecturer in technological innovation, entrepreneurship and strategic management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, said that June 19 is “to become a tent pole for companies to market their equity missions to black audiences. While ice cream was laughable, she explained over the phone to HR Dive, it’s indicative of a June 19 growing pain: with more holiday awareness comes more performative alliance.

“If someone had asked black people how they would like businesses to react, I don’t think anyone would. June 19 vacation would have been the first thing,” she continued. Now, from his point of view, black people are forced to operate in and around this framework. “June 19 doesn’t help companies take various hiring rosters more seriously,” Lazu continued. “The June 19 Holiday does not provide an external audit of DEI’s efforts by a third party.

Malia Lazu, Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and Founder and CEO of The Urban Labs

Throughout his conversation with HR Dive, Minor expressed his belief that companies should seek to make their June 19 thanks more extensive. “It’s not just June 19. Great, it’s a national holiday,” she said dryly. “Thus, you will give your employees a day off. But commit to it every day.

Lazu also echoed Minor, stressing that companies should continue to have historical discussions about the origins of the holiday and give people a day off. “But really do something structural and do it the day you move the needle around DEI in your business. Because Juneteenth is a really sacred holiday for a lot of black people. That’s what we did for our freedom.”

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