According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, only nine out of 10 Americans celebrate Christmas. While many of us are used to saying, “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas,” are our holiday celebrations really as inclusive as we think?
Holidays at the office can raise other concerns, as well. For instance, if a company invites employees’ guests to the celebration, have their colleagues worked through their unconscious biases about same-sex partners and people of color? Can spouses with disabilities comfortably access the party space?
During the holiday season, companies should promote principles of equity and inclusion – and not just by dubbing the annual party with its Santa Claus and Christmas tree a “holiday party” instead. Here are a few tips for creating an inclusive holiday season at your workplace.
Build a diverse planning committee
Even the best intentions fall short if you don’t have a planning committee that represents different cultures and religious beliefs. For instance, some holiday parties may conflict with non-Christian religious celebrations in December, like Hanukkah or the Buddhist celebration of Bodhi Day. Without representatives from diverse religious traditions, these scheduling concerns may be overlooked.
Be cognizant of the party planning committee’s schedule, as well, and don’t host meetings that conflict with someone’s days of religious observation.
Promote ethnic and cultural sensitivity
Holiday media from only a few generations ago features few people of color. If you are playing clips of holiday movies at your party, or decorating with holiday photographs or pictures – of any religious denomination – make sure that you are diversifying your content.
What’s more, some groups may not be comfortable participating in common holiday traditions, like drinking alcohol and dancing.
“Committed Muslims don’t drink alcohol, and they also don’t want to be present where alcohol is served,” said diversity trainer Hanadi Chehabeddine.
Chehabeddine suggests hosting a two-stage party that makes Muslims feel welcome followed by a second stage with alcohol and dancing. The times and activities of the two segments of these parties should be clearly articulated in the invitation.
Recognize the diversity of employees’ party guests
Some companies encourage employees to bring their romantic partners along, but this invitation can be a minefield for bias.
For one, be sure not to invite “spouses,” as some employees may not be married. In fact, avoid romantic language, like “special someone,” altogether as some of your employees may be single and appreciate the choice to bring a friend or family member instead.
Whomever employees bring to the party should feel respected and welcomed. For instance, if you have a board with cut-out faces for employees to pose in that depicts a heterosexual romantic couple, same-sex partners or friends may feel uncomfortable posing in it.
Serve food that respects dietary preferences
Employees from religious backgrounds may not eat certain types of food. For instance, Jewish people do not eat pork. So, if you’re hosting a sit-down dinner, make sure that there are many options from which your employees can choose.
At the same time, employees with dietary restrictions – religious or not – will appreciate knowing what’s in every item, whether you host a catered event or invite your staff to bring potluck offerings. Labeling each food with its ingredients will help vegetarians, vegans, people who are gluten-free, and others find food they feel comfortable eating.
Don’t require everyone attend – and mean it
For some, attending the work holiday party is anything but fun – it’s a matter of corporate survival. Sometimes, it does feel like holiday work celebrations are mandatory, making anyone who doesn’t attend feel like a poor sport. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, don’t celebrate holidays.
Most companies already say the holiday party is optional, but employees often disbelieve them. To shift this belief, both HR and managers should articulate that the holiday party is not required – and believe it. Attendance, or not, should influence neither perception of the non-attending individual nor their potential for promotion.
“Is your boss going to be offended that you’re not there? That’s why it’s vital that managers realize—that all their employees realize—exactly how voluntary it is [and] that nothing is going to happen if you go or don’t go,” said Los Angeles attorney Helene Wasserman.
Developing a More Inclusive Holiday Season at Your Company
Amy C. Waninger, author of Network Beyond Bias: How to Make Diversity a Competitive Advantage for Your Career, described how unconscious bias plays a role in the workplace. Unconscious bias is believing stereotypes based on gender, ethnicity, religion, ability status and applying them to others who fit these categories.
We work to eliminate these biases, but one of the surprising ways they show up is in workplace holiday celebrations. If you call your celebration a Christmas party, for instance, you are preferencing Christians and people who celebrate holidays. If you hold your celebration in a third-floor space without an elevator, you are preferencing individuals without disabilities.
To challenge this culture of exclusivity, consider integrating some of these inclusive holiday season practices into your seasonal planning.