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Black History Month: a comms and inclusion case study

2020 has been a year like no other, bringing about new challenges for internal comms practitioners.

Today I have a guest post for you by Lia Crooks, Internal Comms Manager and Inclusion Lead at Simply Business, a fintech, with nearly 800 people based in the UK and US. She’s shared how her company celebrated Black History Month.

Lia @liacrooks started out in events and external comms before specialising in internal communication. She holds a Postgraduate diploma and Masters in IC and leads across areas such as employee engagement, culture and values, recognition, wellbeing and inclusion.

Lia Crooks - All Things IC

I’ll hand you over…

Black History Month: a comms and inclusion case study

Amid the challenges 2020 has brought, one moment in particular made me reflect on a key role we play as communicators.

I attended a Staffbase seminar called “How to Foster an Anti-Racist Workplace”. Black Lives Matter was still very much in the news cycle and many were keen to learn. There was a poll put out during the event that revealed that half of the comms pros on the call were questioning whether inclusion was really a job for internal comms.

I remember one of the panellists had a simple response to this concern:

“If you don’t think this is your job then what are you doing, what is your job?”

This really resonated with me, as an IC professional and founder of my workplace’s Black Diversity Network. I believe comms and inclusion are inextricably linked and that all internal communicators can (and should) use their skills to support inclusive cultures.

Our celebrations for Black History Month show the impact of comms in inclusion.

Black History Month

Black History Month (BHM) needs to feel meaningful and one of the biggest challenges at the outset was how to celebrate BHM remotely when most of us are suffering from the dreaded Zoom fatigue.

In a world before COVID (remember that?) our focus was on togetherness – lunches, movie nights, after-work socials. Now, we had to find new ways to connect and have fun using exclusively digital channels.

Food is such a big part of black culture and so we hosted a virtual cookout. Members of our Black Diversity Network were asked to share some of their favourite recipes over Slack.

Employees then recreated the dish at home and posted a picture of the finished product (or attempt!) and there were prizes for the best pictures. While we’re remote, it’s much harder to connect with people on a social level – many of our zoom calls have become formulaic and transactional but the cookout gave an opportunity for people to organically come together (across departments and locations) while sharing their food and cooking experiences.

Recognising, celebrating and amplifying the voices of black employees was another key part of the month – while it’s important to tackle some of the challenges black people can face, BHM is ultimately about celebrating.

To do this we used our internal radio station where we host a show called “In conversations with” which is our own “Desert Island Discs” if you will.

Since lockdown, the show has grown in popularity and we dedicated October to hearing from some of our black and mixed-race employees. As the show goes out colleagues from across the business can tune in while liking, commenting, reacting on Slack which adds a sense of togetherness, albeit virtual.

Further reading via the All Things IC blog: How to use audio for internal communication.

 

Black History Month

At the heart of our BHM celebration was storytelling. Race is a complex topic and one that many have been grappling with since the killing of George Floyd. In the wake of BLM, anti-racist literature was flying off the digital shelves but reading is only a part of understanding race.

This is where storytelling can be incredibly impactful and where workplaces have the potential to be transformational. Throughout the month we hosted a number of talks with members of the Black Diversity Network.

The conversations were carefully facilitated with a focus on learning through listening so no challenging a person’s lived experience or being overly-defensive.

These sessions posed a few open ended questions to elicit discussion and allow members of the network to share stories about their experiences as black people at work.

Topics included authenticity, microaggressions, stereotyping and much more – for many this was their first time talking about these issues and the sessions were incredibly powerful and moving.

To support colleagues before the sessions, a coaching call was put in to help people to articulate their thoughts and find their own unique perspective. Many were not in comms roles and had not participated in an event like this before so this preparation time was key.

Further reading via the All Things IC blog: How to start a conversation about racism and unconscious bias.

BHM All Things IC

What made it a success?

If I had to sum up what helped to make BHM a success it would be authenticity, storytelling, coaching and creativity – all skills which IC pros should be bringing to the table.

It’s also within our gift to help businesses understand the impact of campaigns through effective measurement. Firstly, understanding reach through attendee and interaction figures but also in gathering qualitative data to demonstrate the broader impact in areas such as advocacy, belonging and wellbeing. As diversity and inclusion continues to be on the agenda for many businesses, leaders will be looking to communicators to help them find their voice and share a compelling vision.

And if that’s not the job of comms pros then, what is your job?

Post author: Lia Crooks.

Thank you Lia, I couldn’t agree more with your final point. Thank you for sharing your story with All Things IC’s readers.

You can find Lia via LinkedIn or visit her website.

Thank you for stopping by,

Rachel.

First published on the All Things IC website 22 November 2020.

Photo credits: Lia Crooks.

 

 

 

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