June 19, 2023 – Today marks Juneteenth – a national holiday in the U.S. that commemorates the day in 1865 when the enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free. This was two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Juneteenth is a day that serves as a reminder for all to reflect on the progress that has been made in the U.S., and the work that is yet to be done.
To learn more about Juneteenth, we spoke with Valencia Hill, Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Retail Business Services (RBS), one of Ahold Delhaize's local brands in the U.S.
While Valencia initially began her career at RBS as a senior technical writer consultant in 2014, she went on to lead several communications and IT roles. However, in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, Valencia led a group of her fellow Black associates in preparing a presentation to share with RBS's leadership team. The presentation shed light about the inequities she and her colleagues felt existed for black people at RBS and provided proposed solutions to close them, which led to Valencia becoming the founding Chair of RBS's Black Business Resource Group (BRG), EDGE.
In 2021, she became the DEI leader for RBS where she now develops and implements strategies and initiatives that create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive place to work where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered. Learn more about Juneteenth with Valencia below.
1. How and when did you first learn about the holiday Juneteenth? What does it mean to you?
I first learned about Juneteenth at a festival when I was a teenager. I was shocked to learn this information, as I had never heard about it in school. I vividly remember listening to a story-telling session at the festival with a look of shock. I remember asking my history teacher for more information, and he couldn't provide it. I went to the library, learned more, and was puzzled why this part of American history wasn't being taught or shared.
Juneteenth represents freedom, resilience, and the ongoing struggle for equality for Black and African Americans. It is an opportunity to reflect on the progress made, honor the contributions of Black and African Americans, and continue working towards a more inclusive and just society.
2. How can companies like RBS and Ahold Delhaize use the story of Juneteenth to help motivate inclusiveness and equity within the workplace?
By incorporating the story of Juneteenth into workplace initiatives, companies can foster a culture of inclusion, educate associates, and motivate action toward achieving equity and justice for all. Below are some examples of how:
Companies can organize educational programs, workshops, or presentations to educate associates about the significance of Juneteenth and its historical context. This can raise awareness about the struggles faced by Black and African Americans and the ongoing fight for equality, fostering a deeper understanding and empathy.
Juneteenth can be a time for associates to reflect on the importance of inclusion and equity in the workplace. Companies can encourage open dialogue and discussions about the impact of systemic racism, unconscious biases, and privilege. These conversations help associates recognize their own role in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Companies can organize events and activities to celebrate Juneteenth, such as virtual tours, guest speakers, panel discussions, film screenings, or art exhibits. These events can serve as platforms to highlight the achievements and contributions of Black and African Americans.
This year, RBS offered a virtual tour to all associates and received five stars! We look forward to making an impact in the community as part of our 2024 Juneteenth celebration!
Juneteenth can remind companies to evaluate their policies and practices through an equity lens. This includes reviewing recruitment and hiring practices, pay equity, promotion opportunities, and the overall work environment to ensure they are fair, unbiased, and inclusive.
Companies can support and empower BRGs dedicated to racial and ethnic diversity. These groups can plan activities and initiatives around Juneteenth, amplifying its significance and promoting dialogue among associates.
Companies can extend their commitment to inclusion and equity beyond the workplace by supporting local Juneteenth events and initiatives. This can involve volunteering, making donations, or partnering with community organizations that promote social justice and equality.
3. What is your approach to understanding the perspectives of colleagues from different backgrounds?
This requires active listening, empathy, and an open mindset. It's best to take the initiative to educate yourself as well. As you learn about others, it's essential to respect/embrace differences, seek common ground, and avoid making assumptions. This is an on-going process that requires continuous learning and self-reflection.