The December Dilemma: ‘Tis the Season for Innovation! – Multicultural Forum
General Topics, Religion

The December Dilemma: ‘Tis the Season for Innovation!

Guest post from Mark Fowler, director of programs, Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.

December can be chocked-full of holidays and observances representing a variety of traditions. At Tanenbaum, we typically get calls as early as September from companies with all sorts of questions. While December may seem like the perfect time of year to embrace a company’s religious diversity – more often Diversity and Inclusion teams are caught off guard and struggle to find ways to make everyone happy.

You can access some helpful tips on decorations, scheduling, holiday celebrations, and accommodations, which may help you answer some of your more pressing questions.  In keeping with the Multicultural Forum’s theme of “A Time for Innovation”, this December, we challenge you to look forward to 2012.

The concerns of employees around the holidays are often the same concerns some employees have throughout the year when they seek accommodations for traditions that may not be as familiar within U.S. workplaces.  In order to proactively address concerns around the holidays in your workplace, and address religious diversity more generally, we believe that religion should be integrated into your overall Diversity & Inclusion strategy – not just your anti-discrimination policy.

With the year already packed with diversity programming, addressing religious diversity can seem daunting. So, we’ve devised three steps that can help keep you ahead of the curve, and avoid all of the added holiday fuss.

  1. Use Calendars. Holidays and religious observations occur year-round, not just during December. Understanding when holidays fall out throughout the year is a great place to start integrating religious diversity into your D&I programming. The BBC’s Interfaith Calendar is a helpful resource that provides information on 12 faith traditions’ “dates-to-remember.” You can also circulate instructions on how to upload significant religious days onto Microsoft Outlook calendars, which can help you and your employees avoid scheduling faux-pas.
  2. Consider Employee Resource Groups. Although less common in workplaces, religious and interfaith Employee Resource Groups can provide your managers and employees with the information they’re looking for around “unfamiliar traditions” year round. They can also provide an appropriate time and place to celebrate holidays and observe holy days in an inclusive and voluntary way, or simply help sensitively organize those pesky “holiday parties”.  They can also make suggestions on introducing your company to potential new markets during the holiday season and year round.
  3. Foster Curiosity. We’re all familiar with what comes from making assumptions. However, too many of us seem to have lost the childish curiosity that compels us to be brave and ask questions that we fear might make us (or our colleagues) uncomfortable. Train your managers and employees how to ask respectful questions about colleagues’ beliefs and practices. After all, there’s no way any one person can know everything there is to know about a particular faith tradition. Even Christians, who represent the majority religion in the United States and would be considered a “familiar” group, are subdivided into countless denominations with distinct beliefs, practices and points of view on what and how to celebrate. Asking respectful questions can help to create a more inclusive environment, and knowing how to do this right is especially useful in anticipating and preventing conflicts around the holidays.

Our Workplace program works closely with companies to address these complex issues and prepare them to respond when religious tensions emerge. For the past three years, I have participated in the Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity, and am honored to be a member of the Program Committee as well as a presenter at the March 2012 conference. Bring your thoughts and questions to our Professional Development Institute, “Digging Deeper: Religious Diversity and the 10 Bias Danger Signs,” and practice some more concrete skills to manage religious diversity issues and create productive work environments year-round. I look forward to hearing how you have already begun thinking about religious diversity in your workplace at our session! And, Happy Holidays!

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