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Juneteenth 2023: Why Celebration and Recognition Furthers DEI Progress


Although Juneteenth only recently became a federal holiday, Black communities in the U.S. have been celebrating June 19th each year for over a century. Commemorating the liberation of the last enslaved African Americans, Juneteenth—or Emancipation Day—is an integral part of not just Black history, but American history.

For individuals, Juneteenth is a time to celebrate and honor Black culture and history—but for many organizations, recognizing the holiday is an opportunity to demonstrate company values and strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. 

So, how can companies celebrate Juneteenth as part of their broader, multi-year DEI strategy? Before we dive into specifics, it’s important to understand the history behind the holiday.

A Brief History of Juneteenth in the United States

Despite the Emancipation Proclamation taking effect in 1863, Confederate states maintained control over their territories and upheld the institution of slavery for nearly two years until the end of the Civil War. 

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, commemorates the day freedom finally came for the last remaining enslaved people in Galveston, Texas. However, just because they were no longer slaves didn’t mean they had total justice and freedom.

The Lasting Impacts of Slavery on Black Communities

Even though slavery was technically abolished in America, the decades of reconstruction, segregation, and racial discrimination that followed continue to impact Black communities today. 

Those who were formerly enslaved had limited resources after being emancipated, which often meant they had to resort to sharecropping or other forms of slavery-adjacent labor. Meanwhile, the lasting legacy of white supremacy has never truly gone away, and there’s been a concerning rise in white supremacist ideologies over the past several decades.

Of course, education and generating awareness around African American history is an important part of Juneteenth, but the holiday is also an opportune time to celebrate diversity.

Juneteenth: A Crucial Time to Celebrate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Some organizations may wonder why they should pause to honor the annual Juneteenth celebration—especially because the holiday is new to many people. 

The answer is simple—recognizing the importance of Black culture and history in the workplace is a crucial part of creating a safe and inclusive environment for everyone within an organization.

Participating in or hosting Juneteenth events is an excellent way to facilitate curiosity and cultural exchanges that foster greater understanding and historical awareness. Beyond improving company culture, celebrating Juneteenth as part of a wider DEI program can also advance specific initiatives and demonstrate progress toward organization-wide goals.

The Benefits of BIPOC Recognition in the Workplace

While DEI strategies are often framed in terms of what they offer employees, improving diversity and representation can provide employers with distinct advantages. For instance, research shows inclusive companies stand to gain:

Moreover, when organizations prioritize DEI strategies, they can help to foster an inclusive and supportive environment that promotes equity for all employees. As a result, not only do employees enjoy improved mental health and overall job satisfaction, but employers foster heightened creativity, innovation, and problem-solving when workers are equitably celebrated and valued.

The benefits are clear—so, how can organizations incorporate Juneteenth events into their broader DEI initiatives?

Weaving Juneteenth Into DEI Initiatives

As a relatively new holiday (at least officially), Juneteenth provides the perfect opportunity to integrate DEI initiatives in a fun and engaging way. Organizations can use this time to educate employees with interactive resources, implement inclusive policies, establish and partner with employee resource groups (ERGs), and offer hands-on support to local communities. 

It’s also a good opportunity for leaders to:

Review DEI Progress

As companies reflect on their DEI efforts, they may want to publish their performance metrics to demonstrate the real impact of their goals and initiatives. 

In addition to creating transparency, this also allows organizations to open a dialogue that supports Black employees and uplifts their voices.

Evaluate Pay Equity

Another significant area for organizations to review during this time is pay equity. 

By breaking down salary ranges into racial and ethnic demographics, employers can ensure they’re providing equitable compensation for all employees—regardless of skin color, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc.

Host DEI Workshops

Outside of qualitative metrics, organizations can also focus on improving the experience and inclusivity of their workplaces. 

Hosting professional workshops can provide a safe environment to teach employees about culturally significant landmarks like Juneteenth, African American history, and the unique Black American experience. These workshops also serve as a platform to empower Black voices, while also educating non-minority employees on issues that impact the well-being of their colleagues. 

By facilitating safe and open discussions in this way, employers can promote a more inclusive company culture that combats discrimination and bias in the workplace.

Wellness Initiatives That Promote DEI During Juneteenth

Employers looking to promote authentic DEI initiatives during this year’s Juneteenth celebration can participate in a variety of different ways. It all starts with recognizing June 19th as a company holiday and even allowing employees to celebrate with their communities.

Whether or not a corporate holiday is in the books, here are a few more ideas organizations can use to prioritize employee well-being through Juneteenth DEI efforts:

  • Starting a Discussion. In addition to educational sessions or resources, employers can consider creating discussion sessions featuring colleagues who specialize in Black history or culture. These conversations introduce opportunities for open, healthy dialogue that can break down topics in a digestible and constructive way. Plus, employees will leave feeling recognized and appreciated for their unique perspectives.

  • Inviting Guest Speakers. To expand the conversation and add an informed voice, organizations can hire guest speakers to give a presentation on important topics like Juneteenth. Hiring experts from different backgrounds not only helps employees feel represented and heard, but also expands networking opportunities for both employees and employers alike. Hosting guest speakers on a monthly or bi-monthly basis is an effective way to drive DEI initiatives and achieve long-term strategic goals.

  • Supporting Black-Owned Businesses. Employers can evaluate new or existing vendors to ensure they’re investing in Black-owned businesses. There are many different avenues to explore diverse vendor options, from unique software services to strategic consulting firms. Not only will BIPOC employees appreciate the commitment to DEI values, but supporting these businesses can provide greater economic power to the Black community.

  • Getting Involved in Community Events. On top of giving back to the community, engaging in outreach events is a great way to boost employee engagement and well-being while increasing local brand awareness. It’s also an excellent team-building opportunity to promote collaboration.

  • Providing Employee Volunteer Opportunities. If an event booth isn’t feasible, employers can encourage employees to volunteer at local organizations with paid time off. Helping communities in this way has been proven to improve mental health and satisfaction—and while it might occur outside of work, organizations certainly reap the benefits of happy, healthy workers.

Developing a Proactive Year-Round DEI Strategy

These are just a few ideas to incorporate wellness and diversity initiatives into Juneteenth events—but the list goes on. From book clubs and trivia to documentary discussions and more, there are endless ways to celebrate Juneteenth and improve DEI performance.

While annual Juneteenth celebrations play an important role in corporate DEI strategies, the holiday is by no means the only time to think about these initiatives. True diversity, equity, and inclusion requires a year-round strategy and continuous program improvements.

For more information on developing a proactive DEI strategy that drives engagement and prioritizes employee well-being, check out our extensive list of DEI resources or get in touch with us today.


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