Celebrating Inclusively

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The holiday season is well underway with many people participating in or preparing for a myriad of cultural celebrations housed in the months of December and January. And while companies already have their version of holiday parties planned and ready to go in the upcoming days, this is still a good time to consider your company’s approach to holiday celebration with an eye toward inclusivity. It’s worth noting that not everyone subscribes to Christian holiday celebrations, so what steps have you taken to ensure that everyone in your workplace has a space to celebrate or honor their religious and/or cultural holiday observations? And how might you consider those who don’t celebrate at all? If the time for planning has passed for 2021, you can consider the tips below for 2022 and beyond. However, if you happen to be in the throes of planning, here are some ways you can make your company celebrations more inclusive.

Company Calendar

Include all holidays on the annual company calendar, not just those observed during the winter months, and not just Christian holidays. This allows teams to plan meetings and work events around days that their colleagues may be off for religious purposes. Moreover, it lets everyone know that all religions and cultures are valued by leadership.

Ask Away!

A good way to assess the type of holiday celebration that employees would appreciate is to ask! Consider supporting a DEI committee that is tasked with diversity initiatives like polling staff about how they would like to observe the season as a group. This can be done anonymously with a simple Google form or similar platform. The committee can assess the results and plan accordingly. Keep in mind that going with the majority vote is not the idea here. Rather, you are looking for opportunities to include those who may not have traditionally had their holidays recognized or celebrated by the company.

Office Decor

As many consider coming back to the office, decorating office spaces is a fun way to increase morale and show company spirit, but typical Christmas decor and playing Christmas music is blatantly exclusive of those who don’t celebrate that particular holiday. If your company has office sites, the aforementioned DEI committee could also decorate the physical office space, perhaps having select spaces honoring the different cultures of the staff. Maybe you could have a cubicle decorating contest, inviting everyone to don whatever religious or cultural decor they’re comfortable sharing. If you’re wanting or needing to decorate the whole office, consider using generic winter imagery (think mittens, hot chocolate, polar bears, apple spice, those sorts of things!) instead of anything overtly religious. If you do showcase religious imagery (for example, a menorah, kinara, or Christmas tree) make sure that you use appropriate imagery, icons, and language. If you’re not sure, ask someone who is knowledgeable to assist you in selecting the best images. This applies to virtual backgrounds as well! As many of us continue to live in the world of Zoom, Teams, etc., if you’re the kind of person who enjoys a fun seasonal background, the same logic applies as above.

Attendance (not) Mandatory

Many of us have worked in places where company parties are “optional” with an underlying expectation that everyone attend unless there are extenuating circumstances. The reality is that these celebrations are (and should be explicitly) optional. Companies cannot force people to “have fun” no matter how much may have been spent on venues, libations, and/or gifts. This unspoken expectation leads many to struggle with attending functions that they may not believe in or have personal reservations about attending (consider those that may have lost loved ones or struggle with large group settings). You can hype up the company shindig while also communicating to your staff that attendance is completely voluntary, no explanation required. Additionally, make it abundantly clear that attending the event does not mean that anyone will be favored in any way. Just because Jim goes to the holiday party, he shouldn’t get the plum assignments. Especially with continued concerns around COVID, some may not be comfortable being in a large group, even if everyone is vaccinated.

Libation Liberation!

Though many people may delight at an open bar, there are those that refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages during this time of year or even year round. This could be for religious reasons, personal or family struggles with alcoholism, pregnancy, or just personal preference. And you know what’s a bummer when you don’t imbibe? Having only soda and water as viable alternatives. Consider providing mocktails so that everyone can participate in the festivities, sans hangover. And, if someone chooses to partake in a mocktail as opposed to a cocktail, don’t ask why, make assumptions, or judge. 


What’s a party without food, amiright? Even worse, a party with food that you can’t eat! Take into account the types of food options you’re providing. Are there vegan and vegetarian options (apart from a festive fruit tray)? Do you need to provide kosher alternatives or options without pork? Taking these dietary needs and preferences into consideration goes a long way to showing your employees that you value them and want them to fully participate in all company gatherings. And it’s okay to ask through an anonymous survey or perhaps party registration. Get that headcount as best you can!

While it may be “the norm” to have a holiday party as we near the end of the calendar year, it’s worth noting that a “year-end” celebration could be just as, if not more, meaningful. Instead of focusing on religious or cultural traditions, you could highlight employee contributions and successes from the past year. This could be a great way to boost morale while also honoring the festive spirit of the season. This may also be a meaningful way for you to mark the end of the year with your organization, even if you aren’t in a shared physical space. Now that so many companies are remote-first, what we think of as the traditional holiday party may soon be a relic of the past. 

This is a good starting point for you to consider as you think through how to celebrate the holiday season in the most inclusive way you can. The primary takeaway we want you to leave with is this: creating a space where all employees are honored and respected, no matter their religion or absence thereof, should be top of mind for all of us as we work towards creating more inclusive work environments for everyone.

Learn more how you can make you work environment more inclusive with our diversity, equity, and inclusion training offerings.