SAP Canada is celebrating Black History Month with events that bring employees together to focus on their health and wellness.

During the month of February, the organization is rolling out many events rooted in physical and mental-health awareness. These include: a keynote presentation by Shoshana Johnson — the first Black American, female prisoner of war — on seeking help to achieve mental wellness; a Q&A session called ‘Ask a Black Doctor;’ and a series of virtual mindfulness and meditation sessions.

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With the coronavirus pandemic taking a toll on all employees in some shape or form, SAP’s Black Employee Network in Canada wanted to focus its Black History Month programs on support mechanisms that can help staff through these tumultuous times, says Michaella Munyuzangabo, the company’s senior product manager of customer experience and founder and chapter lead of the network.

Before settling on a theme for its Black History Month events, the network deployed surveys across SAP’s North American community to determine what topics to address — health and wellness was one of the highest-voted topics.

As the world continues to grapple with the effects of the ongoing pandemic, the network is focusing on raising mental-health awareness in the Black community. Stigma still exists around mental-health issues and therapy, particularly within this community, says Munyuzangabo, noting the network is hoping Johnson’s story helps dispel some of the myths that still prevail. Following that keynote session, SAP also highlighted the various mental-health resources available to employees through its employee assistance program and paramedical benefits.

The ‘Ask a Black Doctor’ session was another way for the organization to empower employees to take control of their overall health, she says. The event connected employees with a health professional so they could ask questions anonymously. “The hope is that once they get an idea of where to start to find the answers to their health questions, they’ll go out and find the appropriate help they need.”

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To get employees moving and to help them carve out time for a mental-health break, SAP is also hosting virtual yoga, mindfulness and meditation sessions every Friday throughout February. To add a little fun into the program lineup, it’s hosting a cooking competition where employees can submit healthy, Black cultural recipes and is planning to wrap up its Black History Month programming with a virtual house party.

Although the network was founded in the U.S., Munyuzangabo and a group of her colleagues created a Canadian chapter of the network in 2020, in response to the global social justice unrest that unfolded as a result of racially motivated acts of violence against Black Americans. “We realized we needed a place to come together to discuss issues surrounding the events and feel heard. It also allowed us to share our points of view from a Canadian perspective, while supporting our American colleagues.”

SAP also wanted to show Black employees that it cares about their mental health and supports them in both their personal and professional lives, she adds.

“We recognize that a diverse mix of people leads to diversity in thinking, innovating and creativity,” says Devan Vaughn, the company’s director of diversity and inclusion in Canada. “With a truly diverse workforce and an inclusive culture, employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work which, includes their unique ideas, perspectives and experiences.”

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