February is Black History Month, and we would be remiss if we didn’t address the importance of race and culture in the workplace. If we want to both work hard and live well, understanding differences in how we act and think - and why - is crucial.

We all laughed at Michael Scott’s bungling of “Diversity Day” in the second episode of The Office. But there’s always truth in comedy, right? Frankly, honoring diversity in the workplace is easier said than done.

  Curious about the history of Black History Month? Check out this great primer from the National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Illustration by  Cris Clapp Logan )

Curious about the history of Black History Month? Check out this great primer from the National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Illustration by Cris Clapp Logan)

Sadly, different races in America have had a vastly different “American experience,” and that extends to the workplace. African Americans were long denied the same rights as white Americans, and those systemic differences still echo today. Cornel West sums it up all too well:

“Black people in the United States differ from all other modern people owing to the unprecedented levels of unregulated and unrestrained violence directed at them.  No other people have been taught to hate themselves — sychic violence — reinforced by the powers of state and civic coercion — physical violence — for the primary purpose of controlling their minds and exploiting their labor for nearly four hundred years” (Race Matters by Cornel West, 1994:vii).

We can’t create workplaces that give people permission to work hard and live well until we address underlying issues stemming from this “psychic violence” experienced by our non-white colleagues. And lack of diversity or respect for diverse opinions isn’t just a moral issue; it affects the bottom line of your business, too.

At MatchPace, we want to free up the unnecessary drains of the workday not just to give you back your time. We want to empower you and your team to tackle some of the world’s most challenging problems, and you can only do that if you aren’t bogged down by busy work and burnt out from an “always on” work culture.

But giving you back your time isn’t enough. To truly solve the problems we face, we must have diversity in our workplaces. You can’t build the best team by simply picking the “best” candidates. Like Scott Page, PhD, says, “optimal teams will be diverse.” Diversity trumps meritocracy in the workplace.

Black History Month is the perfect opportunity to evaluate your current team and its diversity - or lack thereof. Could your team be overlooking a simple solution to a problem because of a lack of diversity of thought and experience? Consider Page’s warning:

“Yet the fallacy of meritocracy persists. Corporations, non-profits, governments, universities and even preschools test, score and hire the ‘best’. This all but guarantees not creating the best team. Ranking people by common criteria produces homogeneity. And when biases creep in, it results in people who look like those making the decisions. That’s not likely to lead to breakthroughs.”

It’s time to not just rethink the traditional workday. Let’s challenge long-held norms about how to build the best team, commit to hiring a diverse workforce and give them the freedom to focus and find solutions to make our world a better place to live. That might be the best way you can honor our African American neighbors and help your organization succeed.