Organizations seek to merge workplace wellness with Black History Month commemorations

From employee resource groups to financial and mental health initiatives, the well-being spotlight is on both BHM and ‘health for everyone.’

By Tony Silber      
2-2 week in wellness

The events of 2020 changed the workplace wellness calculus. A focus on jobsite health and safety came to the fore, as did financial health in a year of economic turmoil. Last year’s social justice movement also became a defining element in workplace wellness, and organizations resolved that 2021 was the year they’d show results in diversity, equity and inclusion—and not just talk about it.

That’s the context this month, as new definitions of workplace wellness converge with Black History Month. We asked comms and wellness pros from several organizations what they’re doing to commemorate Black History Month in 2021, and whether it’s different from the past.

At the financial-services company Wells Fargo, DE&I is central to the culture, and not just during Black History Month, says Head of Communications Barri Rafferty. The company has a number of initiatives and commemorations set for this month, including investments in six Black-owned banks.

Wells Fargo, based in San Francisco, is also sponsoring an event hosted by the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce called “A historical profile of Black excellence from Black Wall Street through the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

“We regularly encourage our employees to support diverse communities through virtual community service and by giving to charities devoted to building a more inclusive, sustainable future,” Rafferty says. “For Black History Month, we compiled a list of collaborators and local charities that are working with members of Black communities across the Wells Fargo footprint.”

Meanwhile, the company’s Black and African American employee network, which includes 16,500 employees, is asking leaders across the company for submissions describing why they believe it’s important to recognize the contributions of Black Americans. And family stories from employees will be featured on the Wells Fargo Family & Business History Center blog. An ongoing internal “Inclusion Fireside Chat” series for employees focuses on social justice topics.

At Freddie Mac, the quasi-public Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, the organization has a number of employee-led Business Resource Groups (BRG) that provide unique learning and career-development opportunities, says spokeswoman Kate Hartig.

ARISE, a BRG for Black employees and allies, is leading engagement activities for Black History Month. Specifically, the group is hosting several discussions that intersect with workplace well-being, on topics such as financial wellness and mental health. For example, Hartig says, the month kicked off with a fireside chat for employees about Black wealth and economics featuring Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League. Later this month, she adds, two speakers, Shanti Das, executive director of the mental-health self-care organization Silence the Shame Inc., and the clinical psychologist Dr. Ayanna Abrams will lead a conversation about mental health awareness in the Black community.

These kinds of activities, which blur the lines between overall workplace wellness and Black History Month specifically, are occurring across the country, says Kim Clark, a DE&I consultant with Ragan Consulting Group. “What needs to be underscored is the mental health of Black colleagues who have been through unconscionable exertion emotionally,” Clark says. “There’s a stark contrast between BLM protests and the Capitol siege, not to mention George Floyd and all those killed or shot by police, economic disparity, job loss and unacceptable health disparities in COVID deaths and care. Any one of these things would be too much for a population to endure.”

At work, Clark says, “we must think about each other—health for everyone.”