7 Tips to Manage Cultural Equity and Inclusion This Holiday Season

At a dinner party recently, a friend who worked at a production house asked, “Can we even put a Christmas tree up in our foyer at work any more?”  It’s a good question!

There are several strategies that organizations can employ to make their festive season more inclusive that can create a more engaging, culturally aware and equitable event that everyone can enjoy and value:

Make your end of year party voluntary. 

Some staff members might not feel comfortable attending.  Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, don’t celebrate holidays.  Others may have personal reasons for wanting to steer clear. For instance, people who are grieving, depressed or otherwise dissatisfied with some aspect of their lives can find the holidays to be painful reminders of who or what they’re missing.  Make it clear to employees and supervisors that their attendance is optional.

Provide food options. 

While Christmas ham is popular foodstuff for the festive season, many groups would not eat that ham—Jewish, Muslim, Hindu.  That’s why it’s important to serve food that meets employees’ kosher, halal and vegetarian dietary needs. However, just offering variety might not suffice. For some, even seeing certain meats next to their preferred dishes would be offensive, so consider placing different kinds of food on separate tables.

Consider a two-stage party. 

There are certain cultures and religions that avoid alcohol.  Some Muslims, Mormons and persons of other cultures and religion don’t drink alcohol and they also don’t want to be present where alcohol is served.  Many also might be uncomfortable with secular music and dancing.  A two-party end of year party, with a formal work-centric initial alcohol-free segment to accommodate different perspectives and a second more free-flowing party with music and alcohol.  

cultural equity

Choose decorations carefully.

If your office chooses to put up holiday decorations, seek ways to make them inclusive. Consider adding educational cards nearby to explain the religious tradition to others, the Tanenbaum Center advises. Be aware that red and green decorations are associated with Christmas while blue and white are traditionally used for Hanukkah celebrations.  It may be wise to use secularised holiday decorations and remove any religious symbols such as the star on the Christmas tree.

Create awareness of other religions.

Even small organisations can raise awareness about the diversity of their staff by including an interfaith calendar with their staff resources. Ask employees which holidays are important to them and recognize those religious holidays throughout the year.  When you bring people together to celebrate in those ways, it creates better engagement.  In larger organisations, leadership can create interfaith or intercultural panels where all staff members can learn about different festivals and sample culture and cuisine.  The proportion of individuals identifying with ‘no religion’ on the Australian census has increased significantly over the past several decades.  It is important to recognise atheist and agnostic perspectives by offering panels or awareness events based around human rights or other secular causes.

Offer floating holidays.

A good way to show employees that you value their beliefs is to offer floating holidays so they can take time off for religious or cultural observances that are meaningful to them throughout the year.  Fair Work Australia strongly recommends that employers offer alternative holiday arrangements other than listed public holidays (which are almost wholly Christian in Australia).

Invite feedback.

Provide a way for workers to offer feedback anonymously. If they choose to leave their names, make sure you follow up with them to show you value their suggestions and explain whether you will make changes for next year.

As for the opening question about whether or not you can put a Christmas tree up in the foyer?  Of course you can if you think it will be a good thing for the season – everyone loves a shiny tree!  

So here’s why this is important and sometimes you just need to think it through.

Cultural equity embodies the values, policies, and practices that ensure that all people — including but not limited to those who have been historically underrepresented based on race, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, citizenship status, or religion — are represented in the development and implementation of workplace policy.

While Australia remains predominantly Christian, with much of its laws and culture having been derived from Anglo-European values, the changing demographics of major urban centres necessitates an inclusive strategy towards holiday season planning.  In Australia, there are systems of power that grant privilege and access unequally such that inequity and injustice result, and that must be continuously addressed and changed.

Australia is a diverse and multicultural nation that welcomes people from all over the world.  While federal anti-discrimination legislation does not specifically address religious discrimination, state-wide legislation in NSW, Victoria, ACT and other states and territories do have provisions that speak to religious discrimination.  According to Fair Work Australia, recognising and embracing diversity in the workplace helps staff feel valued for their unique qualities, ideas and perspectives and extends to recognising that staff may wish to celebrate culturally important or religious days and events throughout the year..

Schools, universities and workplaces need to be mindful that while many people in Australia do celebrate the Christmas festivities, even in a cultural capacity that may not be directly related to a Christian religious identity, it’s important to acknowledge and accommodate other religious and cultural holidays.

During the festive season, Christmas is not the only holiday that Australians observe.  Buddhists observe Bodhi Day, which is a celebration of Prince Sidartha’s enlightenment.  Those of the Jewish faith celebrate Hanukkah and Kwanzaa is also celebrated.  Depending on the position of the moon, Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan may also be celebrated during December.      

Employers should make allowances for non-Christian holidays and provide sufficient leave for employees who wish to celebrate their own cultural and religious festivals.  Workplaces should also raise awareness, increase representation on cultural and religious leadership groups and prioritise inclusion through culture days that involve the celebration of different festivals.

A balance of perspectives leads to more innovation, 87% better decisions, and often prevents big mistakes. However, it’s unlikely that your diverse talent will share their perspectives and ideas if they don’t feel included. The first step is changing company systems and policies to reflect the diversity of your employees.

Studies conducted by Gallup and McKinsey & Company have shown that diverse businesses tend to perform better than average.

  • Diverse leadership teams have a larger pool of experience and unique points of view to draw from, which can help with finding solutions to problems and generating new ideas.
  • Seeing people ‘like me’ in powerful positions can inspire employees to stay longer and strive for promotions themselves (i.e. increasing staff retention and motivation).
  • By having a leadership team that reflects a commitment to diversity, you’ll find it easier to attract great talent because high-performing people will be more eager to work with you.
  • People from different groups and backgrounds often bring unique connections with them, which can lead to more networking opportunities for your company.

Diversity Atlas can help your organisation become more culturally equitable and inclusive by collecting demographic and cultural data about your organisation’s employees and creating a real-time diversity profile of your staff.  Organisational leadership can then transform their policies to be more inclusive and accommodate a diversity of festivities.  Our mutuality index can help your organisation benchmark your diversity profile against the communities you serve and our proprietary cultural transformation process, customised for each organisation and designed by Dr Wesley McClendon, will incorporate employee feedback and drive organisational change to establish a new cultural normal that highlights the value of your diverse workforce.

Contact Chief Transformation Officer, Dr Wesley McClendon or Chief Experience Officer, Michael Walmsley for more information.

About the Author

Alex Chung

Alex Chung graduated from the University of Notre Dame Australia with a BA (Hon) in Politics and International Relations. He also has a MA in International Relations from the University of New South Wales and graduated Monash University with a Master of International Development Practice. Alex is currently pursuing his Master of Journalism at the University of Melbourne.