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Winter celebrations: it’s the most cultural time of the year


While Christmas is the most widely highlighted cultural celebration in December, there are other cultural events happening this month too. To truly embrace diversity and inclusion at work, HR should take the lead in giving space to all cultures and traditions.

26th Nov 2019
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December is a month of celebrations, and, as with most western countries, Christmas takes the limelight. We rarely see Hanukkah adverts on TV or hear about upcoming Bodhi day celebrations in town, and a lot of people who celebrate other traditions instead of, or in addition to Christmas can feel that their faith isn’t recognised as much as others. This might be more noticeable in life outside of work, but this goes against our advocacy for inclusion and diversity in the workplace.

Food, a common celebratory element, can be a great introductory vehicle for educating teams on different religions and cultural beliefs.

Additionally, we have issues come our way that relate to Christmas and its place in a diverse workforce. As people professionals who tend to make the final call on employee matters, we are often met with the same Christmas-related queries from managers – for example if they’re allowed to put Christmas decorations up – and you may feel uncomfortable giving advice from a legal point of view.

The usual responses you should have up your sleeve include:

  • You can put decorations up.
  • You can have a secret Santa.
  • You can share the mince pies you made over the weekend.
  • You can absolutely sing Christmas songs in the office if and when the feeling takes you.

Nothing in employment law says these things can’t be done, unless they’re done in a discriminatory way.

There are also questions around Christmas parties, a time where teams want to enjoy themselves together to round up the year of hard work. While Christmas parties are of course allowed, there are a few things to consider to ensure they are inclusive.

  • To acknowledge the fact that other members of teams may celebrate traditions other than Christmas, calling the event something inclusive like ‘winter party’ or ‘team event’ or even ‘end of year festivities’ promotes inclusion. To avoid any ambiguity around the reasons for calling it something other than a Christmas party, it’s best to be open with staff and explain what you are trying to achieve by encouraging (not forcing) teams to adopt a different name. This isn’t out of fear of being un-PC, but a way to include everybody and recognise other traditions and beliefs.
  • There may be members of the team who don’t drink, either as part of their religion or as a lifestyle choice. When deciding a venue for the party, make sure that the focus isn’t on drink, like a pub or cocktail bar. Encourage managers to discuss openly with their teams who is comfortable and not comfortable with what, without singling people out.
  • Parties don’t have to be a sit-down meal – they can involve activities like crazy golf, axe-throwing or dancing. Be mindful, however, that there may be members of the team who can’t do anything too physical, whether that’s due to disability, age, their current state of health or even just their preference. The important thing is that decisions are made as a team, and managers should be reminded that different people in the team might have different physical abilities. Again, open team discussions can help make decisions that suit everyone in the team.

The main thing is to encourage open discussion and not rely on assumptions. People whom you may consider to not drink alcohol might actually enjoy alcohol and practice their religion. People in wheelchairs may still enjoy crazy golf. Similarly, people who don’t feel comfortable doing a particular activity when they show no visible signs of disability might be fighting their own battle that they’re not ready to share just yet.

Feeding diversity and inclusion

There is also an opportunity to use this time of year to celebrate other holidays and traditions. Food, a common celebratory element and bringer of people, can be a great introductory vehicle for educating teams on different religions and cultural beliefs. It’s a long-overdue gesture of recognition that this time of year is a celebration for all, not just those who celebrate Christmas. Invite team members to bring in their traditional festive food to the next team meeting, or have the party in a restaurant that reflects different cultural cuisine. Religious celebrations are of course about a lot more than food but, as a common denominator across most (if not all) religions and beliefs, it’s the perfect way to start the conversation and peer-to-peer education.

We associate inclusion with protected characteristics, which is helpful, but we also need to focus our inclusive efforts on including everyone regardless of a label we give them. 

Are we here to provide religious education? Not in a scholarly sense, no, but if we are to facilitate a diverse and open workplace, it will be insightful for staff to learn more about their colleagues, which includes understanding their beliefs, culture and heritage. It will bring to everyone’s attention that the workforce is made up of a diverse group of people and that workplaces should embrace people for who they are, and not just on the select majority.

Celebrating cultural differences

If you decide to take this approach in December, as an HR function, we should look at what we have learned and how it can influence the organisation’s D&I strategy. Are people interested in learning about other faiths? What has brought a lot of people from different religions and faiths together the most? How can this influence next year’s actions in promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

The answers to these questions can feed into next year’s strategy and give you new ideas how to materialise it. Celebrating multiple faiths and traditions throughout the year ensures this enthusiasm isn’t a fad or gimmick.

A quick look at online celebration calendars will show you upcoming festivities that can be explored and celebrated throughout the year. Get your entire workforce involved in putting this together: Buddhists are best to explain to you what Nirvana day is and why it’s so special; Muslims can share with you the importance of Eid celebrations; Jewish people can explain why they practise fasting on their holiest day of the year. Doing this alongside the support from employee diversity networks will also promote the work the networks do and in turn inspire new membership.

Whether it’s organising the winter party, recognising and celebrating other traditions alongside Christmas and other emphasised holidays, or developing the D&I strategy, aim for inclusion in its truest sense, not as an HR buzzword.

We associate inclusion with protected characteristics, which is helpful, but we also need to focus our inclusive efforts on including everyone regardless of a label we give them. Making inclusion part of everything we do at work means there’s less chance of exclusion.

Interested in this topic? Read Three ways to create a diverse and inclusive workplace.

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