The Importance of Creating Inclusive Workplaces and Embracing the Legacy of Juneteenth

Lulu Rufael Profile Photo

Lulu Rufael

Chief Human Resources Officer, Atlas

Published: 19 Jun 2024

Today, we celebrate Juneteenth in the U.S.—the date in which the last of the enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas were told they were free in 1865; 900 days after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. It’s also a good time to reflect on how far we have yet to go. 

Because even as we recognize and celebrate the official end of enslavement in the United States today, Juneteenth has taken on the importance of the former and current struggles for equity and advancement of human rights. Its official enactment as a federal holiday came in 2021 after events in recent history reinforced the importance of the holiday and gave us the opportunity to make change in today’s work culture. 

As I think about what it means to me, workplace culture has changed but we still have work to do. Early in my career, I sat across the table from a manager who explained to me that I had no choice, I was born black. Then went on to note another co-worker had the choice to tell me she was a lesbian. While today I’d have words for this, at the time I was speechless.  

This wasn’t so long ago that scenarios like this don’t still play out for some people. Maybe not as openly as they did in the 1990s, but it’s why holidays like Juneteenth and months like Pride are necessary.  

And when it comes to the workplace, it’s no secret that Black individuals experience higher rates of workplace discrimination, a recent Gallup poll reported that 25 percent of Black workers faced discrimination, with 75 percent of those citing the discrimination was based on race or ethnicity. For our younger workers, the rates of discrimination climb to 31 percent.  

A key factor previously found in similar Gallup research is that employees are less likely to feel discrimination at work if they have managers who build a culture of high engagement and respect.  

Create Engagement 

Create robust employee resource groups (ERGs)

Your ERGs should not only be aligned to your employees’ needs, but your business goals. And, if like many businesses, you want to retain top talent, promote from within, and meet your targets, you need to be focused as much on the employee experience as you are your customer experience. 

Incent and train your ERG leaders. Employees are often seeking ways to develop and grow outside of their roles. This is a great way for a high performer, or future leader, to gain experience and connections within the company. Many companies see ERGs as “extracurricular” when they should be viewed as spaces for scoping out leadership potential and means to develop in their current roles. 

Don’t Shy Away from DEIB 

Amid the current DEIB backlash in some countries, like the U.S., Atlas is not shying away. We are continuing to expand our cultural awareness training workshops into the second half of 2024 and requiring Unconscious Bias training for all new joiners. Why? Because it remains the right thing to do in a global space.  

We need more understanding and inclusivity in this world, not less. So, while some dismantle their programs out of fear, we know that the right thing to do from a global perspective is to continue to educate the best working experience for all our employees. This means our managers, too. We’ve created a manager-focused training program that incorporates DEIB into the fabric of the content to help managers build respect even in difficult situations. 

The Future of Work is Belonging 

As a company, we center a lot of conversation around the concept of allyship. It’s an important component in any diverse workspace. But what does allyship look like for any of our communities?  

  • Recognize and accept your own privilege. 

  • Eliminate your assumptions about others. 

  • Listen and learn. 

  • Be empathetic. 

  • Become an advocate. 

None of these are easy, and they require each of us to continue to practice them repeatedly. But they are worth the effort. 

Enjoy your gatherings with your family and friends for the Juneteenth holiday, but then let’s remember also that we must get back to the hard work ahead of us—whether it’s being an ally, keeping your DEIB programs, improving manager training, doing a deep dive on the employee experience—it all matters. 

What is Atlas doing to improve lives? 

Atlas promotes diversity and inclusion, employee wellness, and charitable giving to create a culture that allows employees to be their very best and give back to society. 

Learn More About Atlas’ DEIB