When I was growing up my family moved a decent amount, usually every few years. Because of this, I attended quite a few different schools – eight in total from kindergarten through high school. Though each new school had its nuances, for example one served bags of milk at lunch, they were all relatively similar.
However, when I was in the fourth grade we lived in Maryland, a little less than an hour drive from Washington D.C. One day, expecting to go to school, we found out that we had the day off. First, we celebrated, then asked, "why?" We found out we had the day off for Rosh Hashanah, a Jewish holiday that's observed in the early fall.
At school, after our day off, teachers shared a little about the holiday and the traditions around it. Some of our Jewish classmates told us about the unique ways that each of their families celebrated. It was a really great learning experience and lesson that not everyone observes the same holidays, and that everyone has their own traditions.
Though that was a great example of acknowledging and honoring diversity in our classmates, I haven’t always seen that same courtesy extended in my professional life. Much of the time, team holidays are centered around the traditions where the company is based and don't always take into consideration the different backgrounds and traditions of the folks who make up the company.
But, the companies that do make the effort to learn about and highlight different perspectives from their team — during the holidays and every day — are stronger for it, and when it comes to celebrations, they can have more fun together, too! Read on for a few ways to recognize and honor your multicultural team’s celebrations.
The truth of the matter is many company holidays are tied directly to the dominant culture and religious practices of a certain area.
If you're not directly part of that culture, it can sometimes be hard to know which days are most important. For example, I worked for a Spanish company and in my first year I logged into work one day only to be told I had the day off for Arbor Day, which I’d never really acknowledged before.
The intention was good – and I don't doubt there are people who'd love to have Arbor Day off – but I would've preferred a different day that had more meaning to me personally, especially since there were other holidays that were meaningful to me but that weren’t acknowledged by the company.
A way to account for this is by being flexible and allowing team members to lead the way through things like ample PTO or floating holidays for team members to have the freedom to choose the days in the year they want to take off.
At another company I worked for, they actually didn't have any company-wide holidays. Everyone simply got a small budget of days off per year that they could use for the holidays they wished to observe. It was really empowering and made certain that everyone was able to participate in the holidays that were important to them.
At Flight, there’s a liberal allocation of days off that people can use for their holidays. We also officially observe Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day and ask that our partners schedule their teams on a volunteer-only basis only. We’ve noticed that the large majority of our current team celebrates those days, so we wanted a way to create space for people to take that time off, while still offering support coverage if and when needed.
Consider offering a similar practice so your team will always have the time they need to celebrate and participate as they see fit.
Create space to share
Do you remember doing show and tell as a kid? You'd bring in an item from your life and tell your classmates about it. It provided this interesting window into our lives that may have been otherwise out of view. Though you may not do show and tell exactly, having time and space for people to share about their interests and passions is an important way to celebrate diversity.
For example, at Flight, we do our Lunch and Learn sessions. where a team member shares about something they love to do while everyone else listens (and sometimes eat their lunches)! Though we usually think about these types of things as ways to share professional knowledge, the most popular topics are those related to hobbies and cultural perspectives — for example Dia de los Muertos or Dia de las Velitas.
Consider setting aside at least one session per month or quarter where people can share what’s meaningful to them. The more often it happens, the more it becomes ingrained in the culture of your company, and the more likely people will be to share in the future.
We also have a Slack channel called #AroundTheWorld where people share pictures of the places they're working from. It's another way for people to share a little bit more about themselves and their unique places in the world. Creating and encouraging spaces like this helps people connect and learn about one another and to feel seen and appreciated for who they are personally.
Keep listening and learning
Though it's great for the information about a certain tradition or culture to come directly from someone who lives it, the company needs to take the lead in any diversity and inclusion efforts and make sure that the individuals on the team are not bearing the full weight of educating their peers, and that includes holiday celebrations.
Consider sending out a survey asking people about the holidays they celebrate and then make a calendar that includes all of them. At the beginning of each week, you could highlight all the upcoming events in either a company-wide email or through Slack. This helps showcase what’s happening across the team and the world, helps people feel recognized, and creates even more space for teammates to learn from one another.
You could even include links about the different events to give people the opportunity to learn more about the topic on their own time, further reducing the need for one person to shoulder the burden of educating those who may be curious to learn more.
Recognition is a powerful thing. We all want to feel seen and heard. As a company, taking time to better understand and support the different cultural traditions of your team is an important step you can take on that journey. Make sure you're not only catering to the majority, and implement practices that empower everyone to celebrate as they see fit!