Why Black History Month Matters to Me

By Alula Eshete, Senior Manager, Global Services Product Management, Beckman Coulter Life Sciences

“In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”  -- Thurgood Marshall, first African American U.S. Supreme Court member (1967) and Civil Rights Activist/Lawyer, instrumental in ending legal segregation in public school (1954)

Black History Month (BHM) matters to me because it provides a critical and inspiring context for an otherwise incomplete version of U.S. history. BHM serves as an opportunity to reflect on – and in many cases, learn for the first time – the names and contributions of unsung Black heroes who contributed to advancing racial equality in America.  BHM is a symbol of hope for the future, a window to unforeseen civil rights victories, and a reminder of the progress achieved through the unity and conviction of African Americans and Allies of African Americans in the face of strong opposition. 

The celebration of BHM and the context around its inception is especially relevant in today’s diverse business environment, in which the advantages diversity and inclusion (D+I) provides companies, customers and shareholders are widely recognized. In my role at Danaher, I collaborate with colleagues from a dozen different countries in any given week, fueling my hunger for deeper cultural understanding. I’ve also come to realize that in a country as diverse as the U.S., these values of cultural curiosity, awareness and acceptance are just as vital as they are when leveraged internationally. 

BHM reminds us that even during more divisive times, our great accomplishments were achieved through the combined knowledge and efforts of people from different backgrounds. This holds true for the technology developed within Danaher today, where our innovative products are a culmination of the insights, perspectives and skills spanning cultures, genders and generations. This embodiment of D+I is the competitive edge we possess and continually refine.

BHM helps strengthen the inclusion element of the D+I company culture we strive to embody. While diversity – a numbers game to a degree – can be achieved through more purposeful recruitment and retention efforts, inclusion requires a foundational culture of empathy, rooted in listening and understanding. Danaher’s emphasis on training such as Building Inclusive Leaders, the establishment of employee-led Associate Resource Groups, and our company-wide recognition of BHM and MLK Jr. Day are all building blocks for cultural intelligence and a subsequently high-performing multinational organization. 

How can we begin to uncover the unmet needs of our customers in new markets without first understanding the fabric of their cultures? How can we effectively collaborate with our peers to deliver the optimal solutions for those customers without first taking the time to better understand one another and how we operate? We could try, but would surely fall short in today’s diverse, global economy. Thankfully, BHM offers us a medium through which we can begin cultural exchanges that bring us closer together as colleagues and global citizens, strengthening that muscle of empathy to then be applied across other spectrums of diversity.

Growing up in classrooms where Black history remained on the periphery, an “elective” on my course catalog – I’m very fortunate to find myself working for a company that places the mission of cultural awareness and D+I at the forefront for all associates.  Here, we are encouraged to grow in our social tolerance as much as we are in our professional prowess. Through my involvement in D+I initiatives at Danaher, I’ve realized the profound difference it makes for individual associates, team dynamics and the company at large when forums are created to facilitate open cultural exchanges, providing opportunities for us to learn from one another and place ourselves in the shoes of those surrounding us. 

For that reason, I hope we use this month and other cultural celebrations throughout the year as opportunities to engage in open dialogue, with open ears and open minds, to develop a level of empathy that can ignite solidarity and propel us towards a more shared prosperity.

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” -- Desmond Tutu, South African Anglican cleric, staunch critic of Apartheid policies, and Noble Peace Prize laureate.