Since 1976, February has been recognized as Black History Month, an observance meant to celebrate and honor the contributions of Black and African American individuals within the United States. Each year, Black History Month designates a theme to encourage public engagement and education. The theme for 2021 is: The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.
According to a study done by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2019, over 80% of Black families with children had at least one parent employed. Further, the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health found that, in general, parents with children 5 years of age and younger were forced to quit a job, decline a new opportunity, or leave the workforce entirely due to conflicts with family and childcare responsibilities.
If you are currently employed or plan to be employed in the future, here are some ways to tell if your employer supports the Black Family beyond Black History Month, and maintains this commitment throughout the year:
- Fair Working Conditions
Identifying fair working conditions can mean many things such as talking with your employer about wages, flextime, or even childcare and other services. Consider asking yourself the following questions when job searching:
- Wages: How transparent is the employer when it comes to employee pay? Are there large disparities between white and non-white, male and female employees, employees with children, and employees without children?
- Flextime: Does the company offer flextime or allow teleworking when necessary? Is there freedom to alter work hours to better suit childcare and home responsibilities?
- Childcare and other services: Are childcare expenses, such as daycare costs, partially reimbursed? If not, are there supports already in place for the employee in case of school closings or emergencies? Are there sufficient supports for new mothers who may need access to a private space to breast-feed during work hours?
An employer’s commitment to fair working conditions is especially relevant today, considering the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Black workers and their families. The Economic Policy Institute has found that Black workers are disproportionately employed in essential jobs that require them to work in person compared to their white counterparts, who have more opportunities to telework. This disparity increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for Black workers and their family members, further creating obstacles for the Black family to overcome in the workforce.
- Paid Family-Related Leave
Paid family-related and sick leave are important benefits that help employees balance their work responsibilities alongside personal and family responsibilities. This leave is meant to cover a variety of circumstances that an employee may be faced with, from needing to take maternity and/or paternity leave or having to care for an elderly or sick family member. However, the United States falls behind when it comes to providing paid options for leave, often offering unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Connecticut is among the 10 states working towards expanding and enacting a comprehensive paid leave policy by the start of 2022. You can read more about Connecticut’s paid FMLA guidelines here.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found evidence that mothers from racial and ethnic minority groups are often less likely to take unpaid leave provided by the federal FMLA because they cannot afford to do so. This forces Black, Hispanic/Latino, and other non-white mothers to go to work, even if they are ill, their families are ill, or they recently had a child, at higher rates than white workers. As more inclusive and representative paid leave options are enacted into law, it is important to be aware of your rights and what type of paid/unpaid leave you are entitled to.
While this February is dedicated to celebrating and honoring the Black family, it is important to hold employers and organizations accountable in supporting the success of the Black family every month and every day. Ensuring your access to fair working conditions and paid family-related leave are only two of the many ways for companies to support Black workers. As you embark on your job-searching journey, I encourage you to create a list of what is important to you in the workplace and how an organization can support you beyond an employee and as an individual.