Not Acknowledging Juneteenth? Here’s the Message That’s Sending to Employees

It’s important to acknowledge Juneteenth to stand with black employees, but acknowledging the holiday goes far beyond a single day of commemoration.

2020 was a year of racial reckoning and sparked a wave of activism across the nation, causing companies to issue statements denouncing racism in the workplace and begin widely acknowledging Juneteenth as a national holiday. The companies that continued on that denouncement journey did more than just vocalize their concerns, they placed action and dollars behind their denouncement to make a holistic impact.

At Storyblocks, it was logical and actionable to start by looking at our product, and how we could make it more inclusive. This was largely a core catalyst to our Re: Stock initiative, which was designed to promote more underrepresented voices in our stock library while uplifting the voices of marginalized creators. On an even larger scale, we looked at our organization as a whole and did what many organizations around the country had also begun to do: question how we could acknowledge Juneteenth and create a more inclusive and diverse work environment for our employees.

It’s important to acknowledge Juneteenth to stand with black employees, but acknowledging the holiday goes far beyond a single day of commemoration. Truly acknowledging Juneteenth means making a commitment to BIPOC communities across our entire organization and is something we’re still actively working to create. Here’s what we’ve learned along the way:

It’s important to focus not only on acknowledgment, but action

Acknowledging Juneteenth as a holiday and giving employees the day off would be a nice treat, but beyond surface level, a day off doesn’t hold much meaning. Instead, it’s important for companies to develop a strategy that encourages change in the organization and creates values that are consistent with inclusion and diversity.

That change starts with slowing down and examining the company internally and seeing where more inclusive practices can be implemented and how these changes can be enforced. For us, that included taking a look at our hiring practices and making the commitment to hire underrepresented employees. Hiring underrepresented employees can take more time and effort, but lays the groundwork for a more inclusive environment. Representation is only one part of the equation, we have made a commitment to lay the groundwork to support and retain these employees by examining our internal processes and practices.

Create a space for underrepresented voices to be heard

A major step in working to make Storyblocks more inclusive was creating a space for underrepresented employees to have a voice. It’s essential for companies to create this space and start a discussion about the experiences of BIPOC employees. Oftentimes, this camaraderie can be created and exemplified through executing support (and funding) of initiatives led by business resource groups.

Conversations like these are political in nature and can be incredibly difficult. That said, leaning into that discomfort and acknowledging that difficult conversations are necessary for improvement is a major step in creating a more inclusive environment. At Storyblocks, we began with forming Black Storyblocks, a collective space for black employees to have a voice. Our black employees have also formed a Business Resource Group BSB that allows them to converge to have a collective space to have a voice. This “space” may look different for each organization, but opening up this dialogue shows BIPOC employees that they have a space for their voices to be heard and can create an ongoing conversation about inclusion.

If you’re talking the talk, you need to walk the walk

Acknowledging Juneteenth, making a statement against racism, or posting something on social media may feel great, but outside of that moment of pride, these performative actions aren’t what create a more inclusive environment or move the societal needle. In creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace, it’s crucial to steer clear of “empty activism” actions like statements or public gestures of inclusivity that don’t incite any action.

Promoting diversity in the workplace can’t be thought of as a one-step solution or a mountain to climb. We’ll never reach the metaphorical “top” of that mountain. It must always be acknowledged that promoting diversity is a continuing journey that’s riddled with ups and downs as businesses experience successes and failures on their journeys.

Quick fixes like implementing a Chief Diversity Officer can often contradict companies’ commitments to diversity. Rather than appointing an underrepresented person in a single role, companies should instead focus on placing BIPOC and underrepresented individuals in different roles across all levels of the business and fostering a shared responsibility rather than placing all of the responsibility on a single CDO.

At Storyblocks, we learned that we worked best when everyone rolled up their sleeves and got to work examining how we could make our organization more inclusive. We wouldn’t have made any progress if the responsibility was on one person, instead, it took our entire team to create a more diverse and inclusive work environment.

Create a plan for the future

It’s far too easy for this commitment to fade away once the conversation on social media quiets down, but companies acknowledging Juneteenth need to make a plan and commit to enacting longstanding change within their organization. When acknowledging Juneteenth and examining how we could make our organization more inclusive and diverse, it became clear that this wasn’t a checklist of steps to tick off and we would never reach the metaphorical finish line. Instead, this is an ongoing goal that we’ll continue to work towards. It’s so much bigger than a trending topic on a social media platform.

In order to keep the commitment to diversity alive within your organization, it’s important to create a plan or create goals throughout your journey of promoting inclusivity. While this looks different for each organization, at Storyblocks we implemented demographic targets that we hope to achieve in the future.

Creating a more diverse and inclusive environment is an experience unique to each company but it’s clear that acknowledging Juneteenth means much more than commemorating a single day. While we’ve made significant progress toward creating a more inclusive workplace and learned so much along the way, our journey is just beginning.