When President Biden signed legislation last week designating June 19—Juneteenth—a federal holiday, it marked a significant moment in history following a year of protests and amplified calls for equality. 2020 was a year of racial reckoning that sparked a wave of activism across the nation. Companies denounced racism in the workplace and, to show solidarity with their Black team members, were already giving employees the day off on Juneteenth. The new federal holiday is the first new one since Jan. 17 was made Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.
Truly acknowledging Juneteenth goes far beyond a single day of commemoration—it means making a lasting commitment to the BIPOC community by building a more inclusive workplace. My company, Storyblocks, is early on our journey, and while each organization has different teams with different lived experiences, there are a few tangible lessons we’ve learned over the past year based on what works and what doesn’t.
Acknowledgement is action
Acknowledging Juneteenth as a holiday is appreciated, but companies should embrace it as a jumping off point for a deeper conversation with your organization, and develop a strategy that encourages change and creates values that are consistent with inclusion and diversity. The commemoration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday has been broadcast across all major news sites and can be a great catalyst to start a meaningful conversation about the importance of acknowledging the day and building a more inclusive work environment.
Related: 6 things to know about Juneteenth
Making a statement against racism or posting something on social media may feel great, but these performative actions aren’t what create a more inclusive environment. It’s crucial to steer clear of “empty activism” actions like statements or public gestures that lack substantive follow up actions.
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 experiment, fail, learn and improve.
Slow down your hiring practices
Many companies start by looking at their recruiting practices. The mistake that too many make is approaching the process with the mindset that there won’t be trade offs with recruiting. Change starts with slowing down and examining the company’s operations to see where more inclusive practices can be implemented and how to better hold the team accountable to these changes. For us, this included taking a look at our hiring practices and making the commitment to hire underrepresented employees across all teams, and all levels. Hiring underrepresented employees takes more time and effort, but the talent is there. If you truly want to commit to more inclusive hiring practices, you have to be willing to slow down.
There is an “I” in DEI
Representation in your talent pipeline is only one part of the equation. Making a parallel commitment to support and retain diverse employees by examining onboarding, training and performance management programs is equally important. As we dug into our own behaviors, we realized that everything from the way that we use data, to the way we onboard new team members impacted communities within Storyblocks differently, depending on their lived experiences.
Quick fixes like implementing a Chief Diversity Officer can often contradict a company’s commitments to DEI. Rather than appointing an underrepresented individual to a leadership role, and giving them the goal of building a more inclusive culture, companies should instead focus on placing BIPOC and underrepresented individuals in different roles across all levels of the business. This fosters a shared ownership model rather than placing all of the responsibility on a single CDO.
One of the most powerful ways to improve inclusivity is ensuring representation at the executive and team lead levels that mirrors the broader company goals. These leaders will often serve as hiring managers, which will naturally draw candidates who value a diverse workplace, and also demonstrate to more junior team members that there is an opportunity for everyone to grow and advance.
At Storyblocks, we learned that we were at our 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 define the strategy and milestones that we believe will lead to a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
It’s also important that the work your company is doing aligns with diversity and inclusivity. Although this will look slightly different for every business, for Storyblocks, this entailed examining our subscription stock media offering and brainstorming how we could make it more diverse and inclusive. Prior to the pandemic, we were in the early stages of rolling out Re:Stock, an initiative dedicated to increasing the degree of BIPOC representation in our library. During the pandemic, we decided to make this goal even more aggressive, and committed to having BIPOC content represent 20% of our library by 2022. When making a commitment to diversity, it’s important to not only foster this dedication in the workplace, but to make sure the actual work itself aligns with such commitments.
A space to be heard
A major step in working to make Storyblocks more inclusive was creating a safe space for underrepresented employees to have a voice. Beyond recognizing Juneteenth, it is essential for companies to take tangible steps to facilitate this environment and initiate discussions about the experiences of Black employees.
At Storyblocks, we began with forming Black Storyblocks, a community dedicated to creating a company where Black individuals aspire to work and build long-term careers. This “space” may look different for each organization, but showing Black employees that their voices are valued is an important first step in creating an ongoing dialogue.
Conversations like these can be political in nature, and can be incredibly difficult. Leaning into that discomfort and acknowledging that it is a necessary ingredient for growth is an essential step in creating a more inclusive culture.
Create a plan for the future
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you’re not going to unwind centuries of systemic racism in a quarter. It’s far too easy for your commitment to fade away once the conversation on social media quiets down, but companies that want to acknowledge and embrace Juneteenth need to make a plan and commit to enacting longstanding change within their organization. This process isn’t about making a checklist of steps to tick off over the next quarter or even year. Instead, this is an ongoing objective that needs to be revisited each year during your planning cycles. Like growing revenue, building an inclusive culture requires you to define success, establish priorities, measure impact, reflect and iterate on strategy over time.
While this journey looks different for each organization, at Storyblocks we want to build a company that reflects the communities we serve. This includes local demographics, as well as the broader creative economy. We have set tailored goals for each of our departments to help track our progress.
We’re proud to live in an America where Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, but acknowledging Juneteenth means so much more than closing the office for a day. Creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment is an experience unique to each company. There is no prescriptive playbook you can follow. You will make mistakes, but if you are willing to make an enduring commitment you will also make progress. That feels like a step worth taking.
TJ Leonard is the CEO of Storyblocks, the first and largest subscription-based platform providing unlimited stock content and tools for creators to keep up with the growing demand for video. Storyblocks has been recognized by the Inc. 5000 list seven consecutive years and has been recognized as one of Washington D.C.’s Top Workplaces by The Washington Post.