Black History Month: Leaning In

White, Dutch, male and writing about Black History Month?

As an executive at Microsoft, a resident of the United States and a human being, it is important to me to use my voice to support the many communities around me, to give back, to empower others and to be a catalyst for change. It was with that idea in mind that I reached out to Kathleen Hogan, our executive vice president of Human Resources some years ago and asked if I could be a sponsor for the Employee Resource Group that supports our black and African American community at Microsoft called Blacks at Microsoft (BAM).

Being part of BAM for the last three years as co-sponsor has been an absolute honor and a privilege. Thanks to the generosity of the BAM community, I have had the opportunity to listen and learn much more directly about what’s top of mind for the community and explore my own understandings and assumptions. I’ve learned things about black history in the United States that I knew embarrassingly little about. And I’ve been deeply impressed with the cohesion and support BAM members provide each other and the external community. For me, the opportunity to influence others by actively participating in events and tune in to learn from others, to speak up when I observe behaviors inconsistent with our values or beliefs on inclusion, and to amplify stories that need to be told to help address injustices in society is some of the most rewarding work I have done while at Microsoft.

Black History Month, in the U.S. and Canada, is an opportunity for all of us to “knock on the door” to increase our awareness and understanding – from African history to slavery to the Jim Crow South to the civil rights movement to present-day inequities. It is also an opportunity to recognize and honor more recent examples of achievement from the black community and to reflect on what it means to create a truly equitable society.

I encourage everyone – community member or ally – to set aside some time this month to better understand black history, to be intentionally inclusive and to get acquainted with those who are different, with the intention of deepening empathy and understanding. In doing so, we become aware of our own biases, get curious about other points of view and gain the courage to have challenging conversations. Let every Black History Month be an opportunity to understand a little more, to be more connected and to deepen our sense of community.

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