Let’s face it, many of us have probably never witnessed a transformative or authentic way to honor certain communities or holidays in the workplace. For the past decade, we’ve seen how companies have failed with “honoring” Pride month, and in the last few years, we’ve seen the same with Juneteenth. Whether we’re talking about Burger King’s ad or Walmart’s Juneteenth products, these ads and products are problematic and misaligned with direct requests from LGBTQIA+ and Black communities regarding human rights and justice. People are begging for systems and structures that are more just and equitable, and somehow companies translated to selling burger buns and decorative party plates. Unfortunately, we’re in a moment where performative allyship and the choice of profit over people distract us from dismantling oppressive structures, and we have to talk about it.
In this post, I’ll discuss how we can be more deliberate about the ways we choose to honor communities that have been historically and presently marginalized. My attempt here isn't to discuss the check-off-the-box tasks but instead to offer us an opportunity to reflect on the process rather than the outcome. Below I share my reimaginations of how our workplaces can embody practices that honor identities and community-based celebrations.
"Pride was a riot” is a phrase that serves as a reminder of how much activism, pain, and suffering the LGBTQIA+ community endured before President Bill Clinton issued a Presidential Proclamation designating the month of June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. Last year, President Joe Biden and Congress signed and passed a bill to make Juneteenth (June 19) a federal holiday even though several Black communities have been honoring this date for decades. While these efforts are notable, they do not interrogate and dismantle the oppressive structures stealing glimpses of joy from members of the LGBTQIA+ and Black communities. Legislators have filed nearly 240 anti-LGBTQ bills in 2022, and while Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery, Black people are still fighting for equal rights and reminding us daily that their lives matter.
To embody this reimagination, we must consider how we’re talking about Pride Month, Juneteenth, and other significant holidays. We're missing the point if we’re not connecting history to present-day implications in our workplaces. There’s an opportunity to not only reflect on the wins and celebrations but also to work against any form of oppression that’s actively destroying the lives of our colleagues, neighbors, friends, and family members. A deep understanding of this requires us to constantly be in a state of anti-oppressive practice. It requires us to question our role in ensuring that we aren't consciously or unconsciously infringing upon the human rights of the LGBTQIA+ and Black communities (hint: if you’re not actively doing anything, then you’re probably contributing to the problem). With this approach, we position ourselves to take action steps that aren’t performative.
We have to ask ourselves two questions to embody this:
Ask yourself why if you feel defensive as you read those two questions. Sometimes when we’re defensive about what we do on an individual level, we miss an opportunity to think about what's happening at the institutional and social levels. We may feel like we’re doing all of the “right things,” but for inequities to exist, some of us would have to be doing some of the “wrong things.” Asking ourselves these questions is important because it feels hypocritical to celebrate communities that haven’t been (and still aren’t) appreciated or trusted in our society and workplaces.
As a result, we’re struggling to witness the adequate representation of folx within the LGBTQIA+ and Black communities in leadership and social power positions. Furthermore, folks with marginalized identities sometimes experience tokenism at work, making them (and their colleagues) feel like they're only offering their identity to the company. Since our society has a long-standing belief that only white, heterosexual, cisgender men are the only ones who have the strength, wisdom, skill, and expertise to lead, we're eliminating the possibility for anyone else to lead.
Bottom line: Put members of marginalized identities into positions of power. We need to give them the same chances that others have had, not just to succeed but also to fail, and recognize the brilliance within these communities.
Policies and practices have to work hand in hand. Think of your work policies as a guide and your practices as the actions in your day-to-day role. As a facilitator, consultant, and coach, I see frequent discrepancies between what’s written and what’s practiced. For example, an organization might have intentional language about DEIB efforts in their values statement or have explicit harassment and discrimination policies but struggle to live out their values or support people in recognizing and addressing microaggressions. If values or policies aren’t part of an employee's work plan or the organization’s way of working, creating and maintaining an anti-oppressive workplace culture becomes challenging.
Having anti-oppressive policies is a great way to help people understand what your company values, but it doesn’t mean much if your employees don’t feel they have the resources, adequate training, or support to live up to those policies. Review your current policies and other dimensions of your organization using a reputable equity tool like the Equity and Inclusion Lens Guide created by the Nonprofit Association of Oregon. After assessing your organization, you can then begin to decipher where the gaps may be and what you can do to create policies and practices that center the experiences, wants, and needs of members with marginalized identities.
To be honest, I’d generally caution on the need to create marketing materials or products about communities and identity-based celebrations or holidays. If your main goal is profit, you’re better off not doing this. However, if your reasoning is beyond profit or following a trend, please hire someone or a DEIB consulting company that is genuinely committed to reflecting the impact your proposed product or vision will have on members of marginalized communities.
Look for other meaningful ways your organization can contribute to dismantling oppression, such as:
Whatever you choose, make sure your “why” is clear and that you’re taking the time to be proactive and intentional rather than reactive.