February 15th, 2019 | Sherry B Malhotra

Celebrating Black History Month at the Workplace

The year 2019 marks 43 years of celebrating Black History Month and over 90 years since Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson pioneered this movement with a celebratory week in February 1926 encompassing the birth of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  However, what is the importance of its origins today? The answer lies in the very crucible of its formation, bringing up three critical aspects of human emotional intellect – Hope, Aspirations and Change.

At Sterling, we follow a time-honored tradition of celebrating diversity and inclusion in our workplace as much with our community.

Also, we remain inspired with African American icon, author and poet, Maya Angelou’s quote,

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

In an age when creating a “connect” with our compatriots has gained greater precedence than ever, the need to invoke these feelings at the workplace is just as critical as it is in the rest of the community. The American workforce is progressively growing diverse, urging us to prioritize creating awareness, fostering sensitivity to various cultures, as much as celebrating our identities by embracing our diversity. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),  recognizes the importance of embracing the Nation’s culture of diversity and our previous blog post on National Origin Discrimination Guidance illustrates its impact on employment background screening.

What Lies Ahead

A recent research report released by Glassdoor establishes trends and disruptive forces that impact the job market. At number two, the trend that women executives make waves also weaves in the sobering thought that there is room for more, serving as a clarion call to companies keen to walk the talk on inclusion. In the same report, of the top five workforce disruptions to watch in 2019 and beyond, at number three is the prediction that more companies will try to get diversity, inclusion and belonging right.

Studies have corroborated the fact there is great potential for business growth through ensuring diversity. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University found that teams where men and women are equally represented earn 41% more revenue. But the question is, where are we in terms of available human resources? The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education study reiterates: the #1 fact is that the U.S. workforce is becoming more diverse; from 1980 to 2020 the minority working-age portion of the workforce is projected to double to 37% from 18%, while the white population is projected to decline from 82% to 63%.

So, this brings us to the key question: what should companies do to draw the benefits of diversity? The answer takes us back to the philosophy of the Black History Month mentioned earlier and outlined below with a company-specific eye:


Take it from the top! Managers need to build a plan around increasing representation of diverse groups – make it a priority and work on actionable results to pull yourself out of the rut of lip service. The most recent Women in the Workplace 2018 report provides six easy-to-follow action points that can very easily be broadened to include minority representation, listed below:

  1. Get the basics right—targets, reporting and accountability (for inclusion)
  2. Ensure that hiring and promotions are fair
  3. Make senior leaders and managers champions of diversity
  4. Foster an inclusive and respectful culture
  5. Make the “Only” experience rare (only woman/person of color on the team)
  6. Offer employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives

The essence of these directives is simple as it is unequivocal – Build Hope.


Develop hiring strategies that celebrate merit as much as encourage diversity. Studies have revealed that when women perceive that they have been hired merely to fill quotas or enhance diversity graphs, it has a detrimental impact on relationships between co-workers. A great way to ensure this is to set inclusiveness goals and hold managers accountable for diversity.  It is essential to go beyond data and draw benefit from the differences that diverse cultures and genders bring with their varying viewpoints, ideas and market insights to create unique problem-solving scenarios fostering out-of-the-box ideas.


Be at the helm of change. Legacy data and studies reveal a deepening “chasm” in the wealth gap in the US. When 68% of economic growth lies in consumer spending, it is critical to empower communities of color to break the cycle of lack of wealth and personal debt. One sure way is by fostering a culture of acquiring financial education and learning how to make smart money decisions. There are several free MOOCs as well as HR training courses that your employees will appreciate and benefit from.

Developing an organization that epitomizes diversity requires focused effort and perseverance. There is no denying that companies need to invest time, a rare commodity. However, be assured that putting in the work now is not only important but also a ready reckoner for diversity growing at the workplace across the United States. The good news is that companies can draw huge dividends, both financially and ethically, by building a team that mirrors the community it serves.


Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.