I know it sounds harsh, and at the risk of reinforcing the angry Black woman stereotype, no; I don’t want to be your Black history spectacle. Zero shade to the folks still at a point in their career where they make more money in February than any other month of the year. That used to be me–and I remember when February used to pay for the rest of my year. But here’s the deal folks: It’s the 2020s. The world is woke to the fact that Black history is AMERICAN history.
We are worth more than 28 days
Equity and justice for all means yes, tell Black stories, and lift up the magnitude and wonder of our spectacular contribution to the formation of this entire nation. It also means that relegating said recognition to the shortest month of the year is tantamount to celebratory tokenization. My Black nonbinary contribution to your programming lineup is every bit as valuable and arguably MORE meaningful in months that don’t start with an F. Do you realize what a powerful message you send when you have a panel of Black experts speak on any given topic when it isn’t February?
Wait, do you think it’s odd to intentionally curate more than two Black people, let’s say four Black folks and a Black moderator–to lead a discussion on marketing? Honestly, it’s about as strange as a panel full of white people and a white moderator to the vast majority of the world. Why?–Because people of color (POC) are in fact, people of the global majority (POGM). But I digress. We see all white panels all the time and until recently, no one batted an eye. And yes, there are enough Black people in marketing and every other trade to populate these events. You may have to look for us, but don’t fool yourself into thinking or believing the falsehood that you can’t find Black people, or people of color, in any given field or profession. That’s the lazy way out. We are out here working hard as we have always done. And we are eager for great opportunities.
Paid work versus ‘great opportunity for exposure’
Nothing communicates appreciation for Black people and our historical and ongoing contributions to society (paid and forced) like a healthy check. So, for the love of all things holy, don’t expect Black people to volunteer for everything–especially when a white person doing the same gig gets paid. I daresay it is the height of racial disrespect, particularly in Black History Month. Speakers talk to each other–even across race and gender. That’s how I learned that I was being paid a tiny fraction (5% to be precise) of what white men were being paid to keynote even though my keynotes were consistently rated higher.
Offer compensation to your speakers, at minimum an honorarium plus travel. If they don’t ask, offer them money anyway and help close the racial pay gap and experience gap by telling them what the gig is worth. That’s the kind of world I want to live in. Not a world where everyone is trying to take advantage of the next person. Another form of institutional bias that can be easily eradicated is paying women and POC at your company less than white men for the same job. If a speaking gig requires travel and overnight accommodations, you should be paying more than an honorarium and covering said travel and related expenses. Exposure may be cool early in people’s careers, but if they are awesome enough to have your attention and be invited on your stage, they are awesome enough to get paid fairly and properly.
So do us all a favor and burst into your 2021 programming with bold, inclusive choices — all year long. Afraid people will think you are just doing it for the sake of diversity? Great! Better to place your thumb on the scales of equity and justice than to carry on supporting an inherently racist status quo for the sake of racial comfort and optics. We will only make progress toward human equity and social justice if we all put in the effort. What are you waiting for?
Dr. Tiffany Jana (they/them) is the author of four books published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers: Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships across Differences , Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion, the second edition of The B Corp Handbook, and Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions, now available for preorder. Follow their YouTube docuseries Life With Doc Jana.
Dr. Jana is an international public speaker, and the founder of the TMI Portfolio of Companies — a collection of socially responsible and interconnected companies working to advance more culturally inclusive and equitable workforces. TMI Consulting, a portfolio company, is a Benefit Corporation as well as a certified B Corporation and earned the 2016, 2018, and 2019 Best for the World honor from the nonprofit B Lab that certifies B Corps worldwide.
They have been featured in the New York Times, Psychology Today, Fast Company, SXSW, and Forbes. Dr. Jana gave a TEDx talk in December 2012 as part of TEDxRVAWomen. They earned the 2017 Enterprising Women of the Year Award from Enterprising Women Magazine. And they were named one of the 2018 Top 100 Leadership Speakers by Inc.com.