Special Emphasis Programs



Special Emphasis Observances or Special Emphasis Months were developed to improve the workplace environment by promoting and fostering diversity in the workplace and demonstrating the agency’s commitment to a model EEO workplace through awareness and educating employees and others to appreciate value, understand, and celebrate social and cultural similarities and differences.

The overall goal of the observances are to increase employee awareness and understanding of how diverse perspectives can:

  • improve organizational performance;
  • help prevent unlawful discrimination or harassment incidents;
  • improve workplace relations;
  • build more effective work teams;
  • improve organizational problem solving;
  • improve customer service; and
  • fully utilize a diverse, high-quality workforce.


The goal in providing cross cultural observances throughout the year is to bring people together for thought provoking discussions on diversity across the board – getting people to think critically about and challenge their beliefs.  These types of programs have been known to show positive results for changes in attitudes and actions.


Most agencies hold departmental events in recognition of the months, with a variance as to who plans the events.  For example, one agency, at a department level, is moving towards celebrating all diversity groups throughout the year, through specific topics at lunches and other educational events, rather than focus on one underrepresented group per month.

Events may cross diversity groups such as discussions on how to attract, hire, and retain underrepresented groups or a cultural art exhibit and presentation.

At other agencies, all months are observed individually.  A chairperson is selected and then they solicit volunteers to form a committee.  For each month observed, an Equal Opportunity staff person is assigned as the advisor to the committee.  At some agencies, Special Emphasis Months are not always observed with a big program. Instead, the special emphasis program manager (SEPM) may send out a crossword puzzle and give away prizes for completion or just hang flyers or signs or send out history facts via email.  The idea is to broaden knowledge, whatever method used.




January 15-21 (fluctuates)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

On the third Monday of January, the U.S. honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader, actually born on January 15, 1929.  Some cities and municipalities hold parades but more recently, the 1994 King Holiday and Service Act was passed to encourage Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen action and volunteer service (sometimes referred to as a National Day of Service).



BlkBlack History Month is a federally recognized, nation-wide celebration during the month of February (and more recently has been observed unofficially in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom).  The celebration provides an opportunity for all to reflect upon the many contributions of the millions of African Americans.  In 1926, the noted African American historian, Carter G. Woodson, initiated “Negro History Week” to increase public awareness and appreciation of the significant role African Americans played in the shaping of our country. He chose February for the observance because February twelfth was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and February fourteenth was the accepted birthday of Frederick Douglass.  In 1976, during the bicentennial celebration of our country, Negro History Week expanded into Black History Month.


whmWomen’s History Month is an annual declared month that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. It is celebrated during March in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, corresponding with International Women’s Day on March 8 in March of 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a Presidential Message to the American people, encouraging the recognition and celebration of women’s historic accomplishments during the week of March 8th, Women’s History Week. By the end of 1980, then Representative Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) had co-sponsored the first Joint congressional Resolution that declared the week of March 8th in 1981 as National Women’s History Week.  In 1987, at the request of women’s organizations, museums, libraries, youth leaders, and educators throughout the country, the National Women’s History Project successfully petitioned Congress to expand the national celebrations to the entire month of March.


holocaustThe Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust (DRVH) is an annual 8-day period in April designated by the United States Congress for civic commemorations and special educational programs that help citizens remember and draw lessons from the Holocaust. The annual DRVH period normally begins on the Sunday before the Israeli observance of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, and continues through the following Sunday, usually in April or May. In 2005, the United Nations established a different date for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27 — the day in 1945 when the Soviet Red Army liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp — but the Yom HaShoah date of Nisan 27 on the Hebrew calendar continues as the date for the determination of the 8-day DRVH commemoration.



Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States.  May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States in 1843.  Much like Black History and Women’s History celebrations, AAPI Heritage Month originated in a congressional bill put forward by legislators.  In June 1977, Representatives Frank Horton of New York and Norman Y. Mineta of California introduced a House resolution that called upon the President to proclaim the first ten days of May as AAPI Heritage Week.



June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Month

A month-long annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, and the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements. LGBT History Month provides role models, builds community, and represents a civil rights statement about the contributions of the LGBT community. Currently, LGBT History Month is a month-long celebration that is specific to the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. In the United States and Canada, it is celebrated in October to coincide with National Coming Out Day on October 11.



Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the long and important presence of Hispanic and Latino Americans in North America.  It provides a great opportunity to pause and reflect on our shared history as Americans and to celebrate the rich mosaic of people and cultures who, together, build and strengthen our nation.  The celebration officially begins on September 15 because this day marks the anniversary of independence for five Hispanic countries—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico achieved independence on September 16 and Chile on September 18. The month-long observance ends October 15.



October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a federally recognized designation that calls attention to the issues people with disabilities face, particularly in employment. The month is sponsored by President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.  Congress passed Resolution No. 176 in 1945, designating the first week in October of each year as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. In 1962, a change in terminology replaced “handicap” with “disability” and “physically” was removed from the name to recognize the employment needs of all persons with disabilities. In 1988 Congress expanded the week to a month and changed its name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.




November is American Indian Alaska Native Heritage Month. The first American Indian Day was celebrated in May 1916 in New York.  Red Fox James, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, rode horseback from state to state to get endorsements from 24 state governments to have a day to honor American Indians. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed a joint congressional resolution designating November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations have been issued every year since 1994, and we now refer to this celebration as “American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.”



Veterans Day  (originally known as Armistice Day) is an official United States public holiday observed annually on November 11, for honoring military veterans, that is, persons who have served in the United States Armed Forces.  Veterans Day is distinct from Memorial Day, a U.S. public holiday in May. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day honors those who died while in military service. There is another military holiday, Armed Forces Day, a minor U.S. remembrance that also occurs in May, which honors those currently serving in the U.S. military.


FEW joins forces with  national organizations calling for Hill Staff diversity.  Read the letter here.

Patrice Wilson is the Vice President for Diversity. To learn more about this focus area contact: diversityVP@few.org.